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Social Dynamics

Thoughts on Handguns

Toddlers and Animals

Lane County has over 11,000 concealed handgun permits (about 4% of adults over 21, and about 7.5% of housing units)
    - Census data

My sons, when you were little I did concealed carry. There were two reasons. Both were about you and animals.

I knew enough about statistics to know which dangers actually threatened you as infants and toddlers. When in our car you rode in good, modern car seats, which I even went to a workshop hosted by the local hospital to ensure I had installed and was using properly. When you rode on our bicycle you wore helmets and your toddler seat had safe straps.

We spent a huge amount of time at the wonderful neighborhood parks. So, knowing statistics, I knew that to be responsible I could do something to keep you safer from aggressive dogs when you were at a park but several meters away from me.

We also loved hiking up Spencer Butte. At the trail head is a kiosk with various papers, which included warnings with pictures about the local bears and mountain lions.

Neither of you were you in a car accident, nor a bicycle accident. Nor were you were ever threatened by an aggressive dog at a parks, nor did you ever see a bear or mountain lion while hiking Spencer Butte. But in all those cases I did simple and small things to minimize the biggest risks you faced.

I never intended to tell you that I did concealed carry. But on one of our many hikes, you asked about safety. Specifically, the older brother noticed his younger sibling running ahead, and asked me what I would do if a bear or mountain lion tried to get him. So I showed that older brother my handgun, and said that I would make a very loud noise by shooting the ground, which would scare away the dangerous animal. That satisfied you, and was the end of the matter.

I never had anyone, adult or child, make any comment or stare when a revolver's small grip was visible at my waist. Perhaps people did not recognize it for what it was? Folks these days have all sorts of phones, music players, key ring fobs, and whatnots at their waist. I don't think you boys knew or cared where my gun safe was located, or when besides hikes I carried. All of which is great. Proper concealed carry should be as boring, unobtrusive, private, and habitual a wearing a seat belt.

Tangentially, ORS 166.173(2) specifies that a city or county cannot restrict where someone with an Oregon concealed carry permit can carry. The signs that Eugene places in the library and parks don't include this detail. I expect most city employees don't know it.

Getting a Concealed Carry Permit

God created all men equal, and Samuel Colt helps them stay that way.
    - Anonymous

As a mathematician, I believe that everyone able and willing to get a concealed carry permit should do so. There is no need for most of these people to ever own a gun. Studies have shown that when more people have a concelaed weapons permit then crime decreases. Migrant criminals do use public data about the number of concealed carry permits in a county when picking where to go.

Having a concealed carry permit also tells police that have no recent misdemeanors. It includes a more thorough background check than the one required to volunteer in a public school. In most parts Oregon, this means police are very willing to be polite when interacting with you, since they know you are a safe person.

(Roughly 2% of the general population has been arrested for a misdemeanor or worse. Only half a percent of concealed carry permit holders have committed a misdemeanor or worse since obtaining their CHL. So concealed carry permit holders are roughly four times less likely than average to commit a crime.)

I also feel that a bit of visceral national history is learned in the small amount of exposure to handguns required for the class to earn a concealed carry permit. Before America became a place with even slightly trustworthy courtrooms, we had to have a time when mobs and gangs could not rig the judicial system by their monopoly of weaponry. The days when every man wore a gun were thankfully temporary, but quite necessary to the development of our democracy.

Personally, I took the class to earn a concealed carry permit for an additional reason. I wanted to design a science-fiction role-playing game. But I was ignorant about too many things. How does accuracy change when using a gun you have never held before, compared to one you are used to? What about holding the gun with one hand versus two, or shooting with your weak hand, or shooting while walking? Is there a reason to use a revolver when a semi-automatic pistol is technologically available? In the future, would all rifles be rail guns? Why are so few fully automatic pistols manufactured or used?

I had no plans to own a gun when I got my concealed carry permit. That decision came later, for family reasons, as described above.

Theology and Legality

The Flat of the Sword

Guns make killing too easy.
    - Batman

Before starting this topic, I must mention that with current civilian technology both chemical spray and a taser are too wimpy to replace a handgun for self-defense. There are crimes worth stopping (shootings, rapes at gunpoint) that can only be effectively stopped by someone who is willing to effectively help defend other people with a handgun.

We can learn from Gerald of Aurillac, a count who tried to live according to the virtues of a Benedictine monks. According to his biographer, Odo of Cluny, Gerald and his army fought with the flats of their swords and the butts of their spears to avoid killing and to show that their victories were from God.

Note that Gerald of Aurillac and his army did use deadly force. By using bludgeoning blows they minimized the risk of infection for their opponents, in an effort to minimize killing.

In the language of today's self-defense culture, they used sufficient force to stop the opponent's attack without trying to kill the opponent, using the least deadly weapons that could be expected to do this.

For modern handguns, the equivalent to "the flat of the sword" are the .22 Magnum and .380 ACP cartridges. These two cartridges are considered the minimum reliable in a self-defense situation. The .22 Magnum is much less expensive, has less recoil, is available lead-free, and is unlikely to go through your target and hit something else. In contrast, the .380 ACP cartridge is slightly more likely to stop an attack with your first shot. (But in a self-defense situation, always shoot twice before reassessing the situation.)

NAA Black Widow

So my concealed carry handgun was an adorable NAA "Black Widow" in .22 Magnum. It also had the advantage of being able to use a different cylinder to shoot the inexpensive .22LR for practice. At the time no laser sight was available for it, so I used pleasant wood grips. I kept the first chamber loaded with snake-shot because we saw rattlesnakes when hiking and camping (as before, a sensible but never used precaution: those interactions always ended peacefully).

Part of the appeal of that tiny revolver was that no criminal would pick that weapon. It is clearly wimpy and designed to be carried by law-abiding people. Curious if any NAA mini-revolvers had ever been used in crime, I did some research: only once, when a driver who had been pulled over for speeding waved one as part of his threats to the police officer. I'm fairly sure most brands of baseball bat have a more extensive criminal history.

Both Smith & Wesson and Taurus sell larger and heavier revolvers of that caliber. Those are probably worse choices for my park time and hiking, or for a woman seeking to carry a gun to defend herself, but far superior choices for an usher whose job description includes defending a house of worship from a shooting massacre.

Moral Responsibility

When every second counts, the police are minutes away.
    - Anonymous

Police have no responsibility to protect individuals, and are seldom present during a crime. Sometimes I still do concealed carry. I do trust God to protect me, but also realize that I may be a part of how God protects others, especially my family.

(As a teacher, I also feel a responsibility to protect my students. But LCC prohibits instructors from carrying weapons, and I obey that prohibition. There have been "gun crimes" at LCC of a gun improperly stored in a vehicle or carried by someone illegally. But the campus has never seen a criminal with a drawn gun.)

But why not carry a walking stick, or something else besides a handgun? The answer is that Oregon has a very low standard for what counts as "deadly force". The law can be summarized with two of its definitions:

"Deadly physical force" means physical force that under the circumstances in which it is used is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury.

"Serious physical injury" means physical injury which creates a substantial risk of death or which causes serious and protracted disfigurement, protracted impairment of health or protracted loss or impairment of the function of any bodily organ.

This means pretty much any attack with an object counts as "deadly force". The courts do not care if the object is a gun or a baseball bat or an combat umbrella. There is even established court precedent for a significant difference in size or weight between two unarmed people to count as "deadly force".

So in Oregon anyone willing to be a part of how God protects others might as well carry a handgun. Flashlights and pepper spray are insufficient. Anything else is probably "deadly force".

Oregon does have the "Castle Doctrine". According to ORS 161.219(2) it is lawful in Oregon to use deadly physical force against someone attempting to commit burglary in a dwelling. But defending a home in this way still leaves the defender vulnerable to a civil suit. In other words, you can immediately protect yourself if someone breaks into your home, but you might get sued in civil court.

Tangentially, vigilantes do more harm than fleeing muggers. We might feel a responsibility to try to prevent future crimes. But Oregon law wisely states outside of the "Castle Doctrine" people who carry may only use their handgun to stop an attack involving deadly force. It is illegal to shoot at a fleeing criminal or otherwise use deadly force to prevent a hypothetical future situation.

Anyone that owns a weapon with any possibility of using it should practice with it. For a handgun this can be done inexpensively with a hand-pump pellet pistol, lead-free pellets, and a pellet trap. Using a pellet trap at home is legal in the Eugene City Code (sections 4.885 and 4.889g) and Springfield Municipal Code. I once called the Springfield police department and asked how my friends could set up a pellet trap in their back yard that was a "shooting area which has been approved by the city", and the police simply had me describe the area and equipment (including the homemade pellet trap) before granting permission.

More Gun Laws

Gun control is like trying to reduce drunk driving by making it tougher for sober people to own cars.
    - Anonymous

Despite the truth of the above quotation, I would support certain addtional laws to increase gun safety.

Any crime committed with a deadly weapon should be punished more heavily than that same crime committed without a deadly weapon. A criminal trespassing or bullying while unarmed is choosing to be a lesser threat to society.

Oregon already requires both Federal and local local background checks before gun purchases. These can have different information about a criminal record and mental health. Some other states have yet to adopt this two-fold protection.

All gun owners should also own a gun safe. I would not support requiring them to use it. Certain disabilities and other personal circumstances would make that additional requirement a bad idea. But overall society would be safer with more gun safes in homes with guns.

Finally, at the county level, I would love to see a law requiring mortgage lenders to offer with each new mortgage a non-transferable scrip for a certain discount off the purchase of a shotgun at one or more firearm stores in the county. I doubt many of those scrips would be used, but the P.R. generated might help protect the county from migrant criminals.