Communion Of Dreams


RKBA – a progressive’s journey.
September 29, 2009, 8:53 am
Filed under: 2nd Amendment, Civil Rights, Daily Kos, Government, Guns

RKBA? Commonly used, the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.*

This is a personal story of my journey from being raised with guns, experiencing the personal effects of gun violence, and coming around to the belief that a ‘personal right’ interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is a good liberal/progressive value.

I offer it to my fellow progressives for perspective, and apologize for the length.

OK, first thing. I was born and raised in the Midwest. My dad was a cop, and a hunter, so I grew up with guns. I knew how to safely handle and shoot guns before I could ride a bicycle, and I owned my own guns by the time I was 8. So part of my familiarity with guns is just cultural – everyone I knew had guns in their homes, and it was just no big deal.

But I’ll be honest here: I don’t much remember my childhood. Because when I was 11, my dad was killed. And the shock of that (and my mother’s accidental death 18 months later) just sorta wiped away my memories of childhood.

My adolescence was predictably rocky, but thanks to the love of family and good friends, I got through it. My younger sister and I went to live with relatives, who did what they could to give us stability. But when you have lost one parent to violence, and another to accident, before your teen years, it leaves a hole in your life. And to this day, middle-aged man that I am, I am sickened at the thought of violence as it is so casually represented in popular culture, and as it exists in reality far too often.

Still, I went away to college at the usual time, reasonably well adjusted. While at college – Grinnell College, a proud bastion of liberalism – I continued my intellectual and political growth. I learned to let go of the last vestiges of homophobia and racism I had grown up with. I came to better understand the roots of crime, and of violence, and see that many of the policies of the Reagan era were at best counter-productive. My inclinations towards progressivism solidified, bolstered not just by education but also by life experience. I came to loathe the rhetoric coming from the Right, and to look upon all they said and did with deep suspicion.

This included the rhetoric coming from the NRA, which had turned strongly into being allies with the GOP. Through graduate school and work in the 1980s I didn’t have much time for hunting, though I still did do so occasionally, out of the belief that if I was going to be a carnivore I should confront the reality that another living being had died so that I could eat meat. But I just couldn’t understand why the NRA, which was just a safety organization while I was growing up, had gone so far off the deep end politically. Then – insanity of insanities – the push to legalize concealed-carry laws at the state level started.

I thought it was nuts. Particularly with my personal experience of losing my father to gun violence, I did not see why these people wanted to push more guns into more hands as a matter of public policy. Who on earth wanted that? Why, the streets would run with blood. Sure, I owned firearms, and knew how to use them safely, and so did most everyone else I knew – but this was just asking for trouble.

A year or so after Florida had implemented concealed-carry I had to attend a meeting in Fort Myers. I had been in close contact with a number of the attendees, all people I respected for their intelligence and thoughtfulness. After the meeting was over, we were sitting around talking, and the discussion somehow turned to guns and Florida’s experience with adopting “shall issue” concealed carry.

To my surprise, a number of the locals said that they thought the law was great. Several had obtained their permits. Further, since we were in a private residence, they were comfortable in showing how they carried their firearms. I, and a couple of the other people from out of state who were there, were rather stunned by the whole thing. I mean, it was just weird that I had been in meetings all day with people who were carrying guns.

This made a huge impression on me. And I started thinking through the matter, discussing it over time with others. And I watched to see how things played out over time in Florida, waiting for an upsurge in violence because of these people carrying weapons. But that didn’t happen. And I slowly came to the conclusion that I had made a classic mistake of considering myself to be “unusual” in my respect for safely handling firearms – when I knew to the contrary that most everyone I knew who owned firearms treated them with the same consideration that I did.

And I continued to think this matter through, to the point where I wrote an essay on the matter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1993, a companion piece to another essay of mine they had published. Here’s the beginning:

Recently, I had a column here concerning the radical NRA leadership, and the danger that their attitude of ‘anything goes’ with weapons and ammunition poses to police, federal agents, and the average American. So it may come as a bit of a surprise that I favor legislative efforts to allow most people to carry a concealed firearm.

I do not see a contradiction here. What the NRA leadership is doing to demonize and discredit law enforcement makes us all less safe. Having more law-abiding citizens trained in the safe handling of firearms, and duly licensed to carry those firearm for self defense, would make us more safe. Sure, the ideal solution would be to rid society of all firearms, or at least all handguns. But that isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, with a huge number of firearms already in private hands. Certainly, the criminals aren’t going to give up their weapons. And a crime-fearing public doesn’t want to relinquish their guns, though they rarely carry them in violation of current law.

A concealed-carry law would change the calculus of crime in a very fundamental way.

You can see the whole thing here.

OK, so that was 16 years ago. Since then, Missouri (where I live) and another 36 states have implemented “shall issue” concealed-carry legislation, meaning that if someone meets the criteria set out in law (some mixture of training and background-investigation), then the state has a duty to grant them a license to carry a concealed weapon. Another ten states have some form of “may issue” legislation. Millions of Americans have gotten these permits, and the wave of shootings I initially expected still hasn’t happened.

So what? Why does a lack of violence support the RKBA? There also isn’t solid data to support that it has stopped crime – just anecdotal stories. Why should a self-proclaimed “progressive” support people carrying guns?

Well, I take a pragmatic approach, combined with a philosophical one. On the one hand, concealed-carry does not seem to have caused any problems, so there is no major reason to impinge on the Constitutional Right to Keep and Bear Arms. And, in keeping with how I see the other rights outlined in the Bill of Rights, I see the 2nd Amendment to be a personal right, not a “state’s right”. It has always struck me as odd that the conservatives see all the Rights to be “state’s rights” except the 2nd, and liberals have approached this the other way around.

Good, pragmatic progressive that I am, I want to see government serve the needs of people, while not limiting our freedoms unless there is a clear case to be made that it can do so in a productive fashion which outweighs the loss. My dad was a cop, and I have known cops all my life. And almost every cop I have ever known will tell you that their job is to protect *society*, and the unfortunate truth is that all too often that means catching a crook after they have done something – not before. Meaning after someone has been robbed, or assaulted, or killed.

The RKBA – or a gun – will not protect you from being a victim of crime. At best it may give you a chance to defend yourself or a loved one. Anyone who thinks otherwise needs more education and training on the matter. But I would rather have some chance – and the choice to take it – than no chance at all.

Jim Downey

(Written for and posted to Daily Kos, where I’m sure there will be an interesting discussion.)


1 Comment so far
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Actually, conservatives generally recognize that the Fourteenth Amendment applies the Bill of Rights to the states. The objection we have to much of what the courts have done is to find that those rights extend far beyond anything that the authors of the Fourteenth Amendment intended. Homosexuality, for example, was a felony in 32 of the 37 states when the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. It’s hard to see that the authors intended a felony to be constitutionally protected conduct. (That doesn’t prevent states from repealing such laws, of course.)

Comment by Clayton E. Cramer




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