Friday, September 26, 2014

AccidentalRacialProfilingPoliceBrutality, and OpenCarryingSemiautomaticFirearmsInStores

It seems to me that most police brutality in the USA may be accidental, at point of contact. While such brutality-through-gross-negligence may be somewhat less-reprehensible, it is still very reprehensible. Somewhat better than very-very-horrific, still remains very-horrific.

Recent cases like last week's Sean Groubert and Levar Edward Jones make me glad that accurate flash sight marksmanship is hard to train.

Unfortunately, some officers are further away from their innocent but subconsciously-racially-profiled targets at point-of-contact, and are thus more accurate. This week's tragedy of John Crawford highlights that point.

John Crawford's tragedy also points out a serious often-neglected problem with open carry. It would make things much easier for assessing the danger of armed suspects, if there were strict laws restricting open carry of high caliber and automatic weaponry in public areas. Stores offering deadly-looking toy guns should clearly mark the packaging, "Removing toy gun from packaging in the store may be a violation of State or Federal Law. Read the attached manual on public carry of toy firearms before opening package." But under current laws, carrying a toy automatic weapon in a store is not an offense of any kind. 
But, open carrying in a store while black, toy or real, is effectively a capital offense.

This reminds me of a recent forum discussion I had about open carry in stores, which I will re-post below:

Steven Bhardwaj shared Coalition to Stop Gun Violence's photo.
This message is so clear and straightforward. +1.

J***: WOW! That makes about as much sense as saying "since i am poor and my neighbor is rich, its his fault that i went and robbed a bank." Open carry helps to deter violence not initiate it. If open carry promotes violence among kids then they obviously had a violent nature to start with and the gun is just the object used to carry out their nature. The gun caused nothing. Do you blame the vehicle in drunk driving crashes? Same logic.

Steven Bhardwaj: Thanks for the comment J***, great to hear from you! Before I continue, let me note that I'll probably be moving back to the midwest in 2015, and will then soon purchase a firearm primarily as a means to get venison and slaughter meat goats. So I'm not a complete gun-o-phobe.

Let me give another few disclaimers:
- I disagree with *any* open carry of semiautomatic or automatic firearms.
- I think that ownership and sales of semi-'s and auto-'s should be more heavily regulated than it is now, with better requirements on background checks etc.
- I think that handgun ownership should also be better regulated, although this is a more complex subject that I haven't studied enough yet.

But, here I will discuss a much more specific subject. I provide below an argument *against open carry in public areas with some crowded spaces that are intended to welcome children*.

First, while the statement that "guns don't kill people, people kill people" makes some sense, still it cannot be applied across-the-board. Machines are tools, but technology shapes behavior as well: the cause/effect goes both ways. There's a reason why we ban private ownership of heroin and cocaine and antiaircraft missiles. Should an individual be allowed to own a briefcase nuke? No.

In particular, the need to control private ownership of dangerous tech depends on how bad the danger is. We ban heroin, but what about alcohol? We ban meth, but maybe marijuana should not be banned. I certainly don't think we should ban open carry of properly sheathed machetes.

Furthermore, the level of "danger" changes according to the particular environment. We do not allow public carry of firearms into certain important locations as a sign of respect to those places. Post offices, courthouses, and airports, are a few examples. Guns cannot directly cause plane hijackings, but they can make such atrocities much easier.

Similarly, almost all of our K-12 schools do not allow open carry on school grounds.

We need to regulate, in a carefully limited way, public speech and use of dangerous technology, as it relates to children. This can come through laws, but regardless it should most importantly come through neighborly social dynamics. We don't allow children to publicly purchase guns. We don't allow alcohol and cigarette companies to target children with their advertisements.

Let's think about these two things, the importance of a place, and the role of children.

I certainly want to be able to put my rifle in a case, walk down the street to a store, and try out some new scopes. But I shouldn't walk around with the rifle unsheathed on my shoulder in a Toys-R-Us. There are too many toy guns there - people will behave toward me as if the rifle is a toy, and will do a double-take when they realize it's real. Any non-uniformed-officer that is open carrying in a Toys-R-Us would make me not want to bring a child into that store.

I think this is because open carry for the purpose of self-defense is aimed at, and requires, reserving an atmosphere of physical respect about the person carrying the firearm. It's like a chef carrying a gallon pot of hot oil through a kitchen. By entering a Toys-R-Us, that atmosphere of respect is bent out of shape.

Similarly, although an M-16 is far away from a nuclear bomb in human-killing-power-per-minute, it should still absolutely not be open-carried past children in the narrow aisles of Walmart. Open-carrying it past a child puts the firearm in a casual light, and it breaks down the barrier between fantasy and reality that our enjoyment of games like GTA depends on.

If the open-carry rifle is inappropriate in the Toys-R-Us, and the M-16 is inappropriate in the Walmart, then where do we draw the line? I tend to think that we should not allow any private open-carry in public spaces that welcome children. I think that the force of this should come from neighborly social dynamics, local ordinances, and state law.

But regardless of where you think the line should be drawn, I hope that you find the discussion here to be relevant and responsibly thoughtful.

Thanks for provoking this essay, J***, and I look forward to chatting with you more about this and other topics!


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