Friday, June 5, 2009

On Being a Badass

This is gonna be long. Apologies to those who are short on time.

Going through YouTube recently, I came across a video of a man who was being arrested. The officers refused to notify him of any particular charge, other than suggesting that he resisted arrest (which, actually, probably wouldn’t stand up in court, being that the original arrest was not an informed arrest either). The man being arrested tried to be reasonable at first, and then he played the “crazy religious nut” card (he may even have been serious, I don’t know enough about the situation to say). And the officers then tased him, immediately after which he got up and ran away—much to the officers’ surprise.

This seemed like a blatant violation of rights, because the officers wouldn’t tell him what reason they had for arresting him. But in fact, no actual rights were violated. It still seemed wrong to me. The use of the Taser didn’t seem well-justified. Tasers are potentially lethal weapons. They would have done better to shoot the man in the leg with a sidearm—the chances of lethality are about the same, actually. But the fact that it didn’t do much to the guy seems to imply that the unwritten “no harm, no foul” law of the universe. I’m sure that religious zealots will point out that his prayer to Eloheim for protection had something to do with it. I’ve seen such reactions without prayer. The prayer was incidental at best.

But then we have the “Don’t Taze Me, Bro” guy in Florida, and numerous other incidents where the use of a Taser was accomplished and not well-justified. A Taser is not a “control device”; it is not a “restraint device”; and it is not a “medical device:”: it is a “certified non-lethal weapon” which has a history of lethal results. I’ll write a blog entry on that alone. The point of this is to show that even police can sometimes have bad judgment, and are prone to stress and illogical thinking. Without getting into too much depth, this leads police to be on a kind of power trip, and one which does more harm than good to society. Enough depth. For now, let me get to my real point: firearms and how I’m something of a badass, apparently, because of the way that I don’t like guns.

I want to preface the following by saying that I do have a great deal of respect for police. Stress levels are high, and this can sometimes cloud judgment and clear thought. Being a cop is a tough job, and while you’re in the uniform people don’t tend to respond positively to you. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not generally personal. I understand why some cops do what they do; but power trips shouldn’t go unchecked—not even if the result is good. Cops on power trips don’t necessarily need to go to court, but if police departments aren’t willing to check their own officers where this is concerned, then the only recourse is civil action. Leaving things unchecked, or presenting a “unified front” where an officer may have been wrong can only be detrimental to the rule of law. If the rule of law doesn’t apply to police, then police are the most dangerous gang in existence. Some gangs already treat them this way.

Put another way: it’s tough to be a cop, and it’s tough to follow the law because of how complex laws are. But if police are above the laws they enforce, and cannot withstand the microscope of public scrutiny, then their utility cannot be justifiable. Simply whining about how hard the job is makes you a whiner; it doesn’t justify your actions any more than whining about being abused excuses a criminal from the crimes they commit. Nobody should be above the law, least of all those who enforce it. And I mean least of all.

Officers in lots of places seem to be on a power trip, and often seek to remove any kind of empowerment on the part of those they’re interacting with. In some cases, this disempowerment makes their jobs easier, particularly where dealing with someone who is clearly being irrational themselves. But where it doesn’t work, how about trying logic and reason? A little actual critical reasoning might go a long way to preventing repeat crimes, and it might actually serve to create a little respect for the badge, instead of engendering disdain for the power trips that many of the people who wear badges embody. The embodiment of a power trip is not where the enforcement of law should be. Humility and accountability should be the rule, not the exception.

We had a police officer come to our place a while back, and I’m sure I didn’t make a great impression, but it was because I was actually pretty pissed off at the way things were handled. One officer asked if she could come in, and I refused entry on the grounds that I don’t allow firearms of any kind in the house, citing numerous incidents where local officers had not used their firearms in ways I considered justifiable. I told them that either they had to leave their sidearm with another officer, or find someone who wasn’t carrying. They asked if they needed to get a warrant. I informed them that even with a warrant, I had the right to request that no firearms enter my home unless they had a compelling reason. They didn’t. Therefore, a warrant would not be a solution to this issue.

My lawyer was so proud when I told her. Seriously.

When the officer without a firearm came in (forty-five minutes later; I stayed by the door and kept it open the entire time to ensure that they didn’t think I was trying to actually hide anything), they saw my swords, and they saw a bow-and-quiver (no arrows) mounted on the wall near the door. The quiver, I bought through a catalog as decoration (it’s a Legolas-like quiver). The bow is a traditional kind: no pulleys, just a big hunk of wood with a white leather string on it, and it belonged to my great grandfather, who claimed a Native American (of the Chippewa tribe, I think he said) had taught him how to make it (it looks to me more like a European style, but… meh, it was his story about his friend, and I’m positive he believed it). It’s non-functional: the wood was uncared-for during a garage stay of over twenty years, and though I have been trying to work linseed oil into it, the wood just isn’t up to use (having split in four places from drying out). While admiring the bow (which he hadn’t had permission to touch), this officer asked me why I didn’t like guns. I didn’t have a good answer: I just don’t like them. But I’ve been thinking about it for months, now. More on that later. I answered him: “I just don’t. They annoy me.”

The officer’s next question really bugged me, though: “So, what do you have against the Second Amendment?” I have to say, I’m hard to offend, but that assumptive leap in logic really seemed out of the blue, and uncalled for. I believe that I have the choice to say what’s right for me. I do not believe that my own comfort should be forced on others.

Thus, I’m pro-Second Amendment. I think the right to keep and bear arms is an important check and balance against the tyranny of government which continues to threaten us (and which has never really abated in the history of governments, though somewhat mitigated in our own form—not ideal, but the closest to the mark). Firearms are intended to convey the threat of violent uprising to the government, so that the government’s aim is to satisfy the public’s best interests. At least, this was what was conveyed by those who wrote and signed the US Constitution—our Founding Fathers—in many a quotation thrown around today (especially Andrew Jackson’s “tree of liberty” quote). Even so, I won’t be a party to violence for as long as I have a choice in the matter that doesn’t make me choose my own survival as the only other option.

Even with President Obama’s apparent benevolence, there are other elements I just don’t—and probably never will—fully trust. That trust is gone: unearned, unless they find a way to earn it back (and I have to say, though I fully support Obama’s stated aims during his campaign, I’m still watching to see if the government as a whole is capable of earning my trust back).

I can’t place faith in a government that claims to serve the people, and then sells out consumer protections to the highest corporate bidder. This is the very definition of fascism: the merging of corporate and government interests. This nation wasn’t intended to be a fascist republic; it’s a republic, certainly: but operated under the principles of democracy. And those principles say that what hurts public interests is bad for the government—in spite of how well it lines a politician’s pockets. And merely redefining public interests to justify one’s actions is just low. As in: below the belt. Simply changing the definition might make something technically legal, but it doesn’t fool the public: not really. They still know it’s wrong. And so should those in power. They apparently don’t get that they need outside input, and neither does the public. If the public got that, more people would be needed to answer phones for the US Congress, in both the House and the Senate.

Many within the government really want to strip weapons from the public (including President Obama), on the basis that disarming the population makes that population safer. I couldn’t disagree more. More on that disagreement below. On to what I actually explained to the officer:

When one has a firearm, one tends to justify its use after the fact of using it. If you carry a firearm as a matter of habit or duty, I believe that you will ultimately use it. I’ve lived in the worst parts of the US (in the worst parts of many major cities noted for their high violent crime rates), and I’ve seen all kinds of things I didn’t want to see, and that I would rather not have to remember. I’ve had friends who were into crime. I had these people as friends, because I don’t want them as enemies, as they tend to have a difficult time with the concept of neutrality. If I’m not with them, then I’m against them. I’m not allowed indifference. These friends just can’t afford to work like that.

My home as a safe haven meant that I didn’t let them have guns in my home, either. They didn’t always respect our arrangement. But the whole time I was required to deal with living in a criminally-oriented situation, in a bad neighborhood, or whatever the case was, I never once put my hands on any kind of weapon in defense of my home. Why? Because I stay out of others’ business affairs. I’m a friend, not a business associate. What ill they do, that’s their business. And so long as their trouble doesn’t knock on my door, I have to accept that this arrangement works. Likewise, I keep to myself and try not to bother other people. They generally don’t think I have much of value (especially when they see exposed electronics and old TV-style CRT monitors, which implies that the stuff running is too old to be of any real worth). When I explained this to the cop, he retorted with a dismissal: “So, you think you’re a badass because you can defend your home without a gun?”

I still roll my eyes at that. Say what? When did I say “defend”? What part of what I said painted me as a badass? Yeah, that’s me: the badass who doesn’t want firearms in his home because he finds them morally offensive. The badass who preaches peace and harmony and goes to great lengths to try to promote the idea of them. The badass who tells an officer to uphold the law in a way that the particular officer finds uncomfortable. Is there a badass to be had in that? I mean, I’m not Kwai-Chang Kane: I don’t really know a significant amount about Kung Fu or whatever. The truth is, he was just itching for a reason to try to arrest me, and justify that warrant anyway. I didn’t give it to him, badly as he wanted it.

So, apparently, my badass self (being a fat, almost-middle-aged man with minor but chronic health problems) walked the officer around his home, showing him the insides of drawers and a laundry hamper next to the window, so that they wouldn’t have to get a warrant and actually rip my house apart because some brainless addict used my window as a dump zone during a chase. It pissed me off (their claiming a need to intrude into my home and check through closed drawers, etc., though I was clearly not involved), but they did actually find the drugs where the addict was seen tossing them (they were on the window ledge outside the window), and to their credit, the cops have left me alone after that. I just didn’t appreciate the attitude or the invasion of my privacy, that’s all. I said so. And they left. I haven’t had them back over. Water under the bridge? No. It still pisses me off.

I mean, really: I’m such a badass. Yep, yep, yep. People cower in fear at my demands for peace, right? Suuuure.

I was trying to cooperate and maintain the principles my children have seen demonstrated in numerous situations; instead, I got treated as though I was doing something wrong and trying to hide something. My crime: living in the path that some druggie chose during a who-knows-how-long foot chase through several neighborhoods, and having convictions which do not permit firearms under my roof. Could it have ever occurred to that officer that I’m actually not into drugs, and that I don’t make a habit out of police visits because of attitudes like his? And people wonder why cops aren’t well-liked. It’s power trips like that which make me not trust their firearms in the first place. The lady cop outside had enough respect to ask questions about my beliefs, instead of simply making assumptions. The assumptions were offensive. She told me she was complaining to the other officer’s superior on my behalf, because he was intentionally baiting me—and that, apparently, was something of a violation of internal policies of conduct. It was the first I’d heard of that particular department trying to check and balance. That woman has my gratitude. I’ve never had a more positive experience with a police officer. More like her, and my own faith in law enforcement would definitely be on the mend.

I hate being put on the defensive. With cops like these, who needs a criminal element? I feel more threatened by having those kinds of officers than I do living in a high-crime neighborhood.

I do have to say, though: thinking about why I don’t like guns did bring me to kind of a philosophical point about lots of things. That was productive. Plus, they didn’t technically violate my rights, even if they violated my sensibilities. These were generally-good cops, faced with too many unknowns to be comfortable. And they handled it with about as much grace as they could muster. The one lady cop was about as graceful as it gets. I wrote a letter of thanks and commendation to her department, explaining the situation. I’m pretty sure it went nowhere, but I have to say, she impressed the hell outta me. I found out later that she’s no longer a cop, and that she took a job as a private bodyguard for some executive’s family. If she’s reading this, ever, she’ll know whom she is. If she remembers who I am, she has my thanks, and that of my family. I just wish I had the money to rate hiring someone like her, because that’s the kind of positive influence I want my kids to see.

And she was hot, too, but that’s not the point. (NOTE: I’m checking over my shoulder at this point for my lady’s eyes. She nods, commends me on being honest, and continues about her own projects.)

The one unarmed cop was the worm in the apple. There was a second cop who entered, but he didn’t speak to me more than professional requirements dictated (and I’m actually glad for that, since I was in an increasingly-irrational mood). If they’d pressed me for another hour or two, I’m sure I might have verbally snapped at them, started telling the officer I had a problem with him, and told them to either get a warrant or another officer. As it was, the visit seemed like six hours. It was, in reality, 18 minutes. When you’re pissed off and not used to it, that’s an eternity of self-control.

Enough about my being a badass and pissed off about poorly-justified power and control. On to some reasons I don’t like guns (outlined as notes for—believe it or not—brevity):

  • Firearms allow one to distance themselves from the destruction and possibly death that they are inflicting.
    • This lessens the impact of death, and makes it easier to dole out.
    • It creates the opportunity to convince yourself that what has been done is less than what it is. And this, to me, is the primary mistake that firearms are.
  • They’re just too damn noisy.
    • Nothing says “I’m giving away my position to an enemy” like the rat-tat-tat of automatic fire.
      • If they already know where you are, that’s another thing altogether: do what is needed to survive. But survival is not the issue, here: my personal like or dislike of guns is the issue.
  • A firearm’s only purpose is destruction. It can only fulfill its purpose with that end.
    • Destructive potential is not always dispensed in a predictable, orderly way.
    • Violence is the result of a person’s destructive potential, and this can only be amplified by a firearm.
    • Guns may not operate themselves, but the capacity for destruction is amplified by their inclusion in any activity or environment (yes, even underwater).
  • Silencers are rarely silent in real life: the “zip” of bullets on TV as they come out of a silencer is not only unrealistic in itself, they never include the sound of the weapon’s mechanisms racking as the recoil from firing the shot occurs. It’s loud, people: someone in the next room will hear you.
    • Nobody shows realistic gun operation on TV or in movies (as a general rule, with one or two notable exceptions). This glorifies the use of firearms, makes them sexy and powerful. Generally, not to the right kinds of people.
    • The people who tend to want to own a gun are the same as those who want to go on a power trip. Not in every case, but the rule does hold in a generalized way. A lot of it has to do with the ways that guns’ relationships to injury and death are portrayed in popular media.
    • Silencers are only one example. Virtually any other kind can be demonstrated, as well.
    • Censorship with regard to blood and death is harmful, in that the horrors of injury and death are woefully misrepresented as being gloriously clean. There’s nothing glorious about it: it’s horrific. It should be represented as such, rather than being sanitized and therefore glorified.
  • Irresponsible gun ownership causes tens of thousands of deaths per year.
    • There’s not a legal requirement to go to a gun safety course when one buys a firearm. As such, legal firearms can be more dangerous to those who own them than to those they are intended to protect against.
    • Responsible gun ownership is not taught on public television. One has to pay cash for it. The aim of budget-making lawmakers is therefore not in protecting the public, but in ensuring that the wealthy can be safe.
      • Imagine the kind of production which could be made if Congress dropped $50 million into a four-hour educational course which was free to the public.
  • Illegal firearms bought and sold on the black market are unaffected by any kind of law. This is because criminals don’t obey laws, by definition. As such, laws to control gun ownership cannot prevent ownership by someone who is truly determined to do harm. Such laws only makes it more difficult to legally obtain firearms, and make illegal channels more attractive.
    • Restrictions on what kinds of weapons might be legally bought or sold limit only those who are willing to obey the law, and empower those who are willing to break the law.
      • Controls over the flow of guns to the black market are impossible to enforce, because even police fall victim to theft of their firearms. Guess where these stolen pistols and rifles wind up?
      • Theft is against the law. If criminals who steal guns are unwilling to follow that law, and the object they steal is used for ending life, what makes a legislator believe that stricter penalties are a deterrent? The answer is not more restrictions, but more intelligent solutions to the actual issues.
    • Notable tragedies have occurred, and continue to occur, because there’s no way to legally control the black market. Education, and not propaganda, is the only real solution for something like this.
    • The gun industry has no accountability (and don’t need it) for the use of their product; only in whether or not their product is of good quality. However, there is little oversight on the control of their distribution channels, which are vulnerable. This lack of taking responsibility makes me loathe the very existence of firearms.
    • The fact that guns are created at all causes the black market issue; not whether the person owning it is legal or not. Legality has little bearing on ownership. Because guns are created, they are automatically dangerous.
  • I hate guns because of Chuck Norris. Okay, and every other martial artist who isn’t typically portrayed using a weapon.
    • You don’t have to reload a sword or a fist.
    • It’s harder to take someone’s hands away than it is any weapon. Weapons which are taken away can be used against the person who brought them in.
    • Damaging a hand takes it out of commission; damaging a weapon only makes it more dangerous to those in close proximity to it.
    • With the correct training, a hand is also far more lethal and far less random than a firearm, but the “safety” on that kind of a weapon is far more effective, and far more obvious when it’s disengaged.
      • My one and only Chuck Norris joke (one I’m sure even he might appreciate):
        • Chuck Norris is the safety mechanism for his fists.
  • I’d hazard a guess and say that less than 1% of all firearm use in the world is for the production of food. It should be closer to 99%.
    • Were it closer to 99%, I would say that my ownership of a gun for that purpose would outweigh my distaste for them. As things stand now, I won’t even go deer hunting during the bow hunt for fear of being shot by some idiot with a rifle (yes, it has actually happened, though not to me).

These are not all of the reasons, but it’s a good beginning. I firmly believe that if gun ownership was actually required by law, fewer criminals would want them.

Some final notes: the only way to make firearms less of a problem is to increase access to them for law-abiding citizens. This seems backwards, but it has worked in practice in the past. Also, creating “weapon-free zones” ensures that those who abide by this rule are disarmed if someone who doesn’t abide by the rule happens to want to take power over them. Ensuring that people don’t get hurt means increasing access to things like concealed weapons permits. When criminals can’t tell who is or isn’t carrying, they are less likely to want to take a risk to their own lives. I will never carry a firearm. Ever—regardless of legality, I don’t like them. But I think more people should consider carrying one. Such considerations make for the beginnings to well-informed decisions.

Psychology, and not restrictive legality, is where the solution can be found.

Ain’t that just badass?