Monday, March 30, 2009

Bazookas, flintlocks & concealability: The handgun's role in the coming hard times

Last night my daughter Ashley's boyfriend got 'jacked for his backpack and her iPod. "That iPod contained 35,000 songs and 25 DVDs," my daughter wailed. I freaked out! What if this sudden upsurge of bad guys was the wave of the future? What if this was just the tip of the iceberg for a huge future wave in crime that was being escalated by the tanking economy? What if this is a trend? What if crime is now on the rise and this 'jacked iPod is only the beginning and we will no longer be safe in our beds!

"Calm down, Mom."

OMG! What if they 'jacked Ashley's iPod using a handgun! And now that the next Great Depression is upon us, what if everyone all starts carrying guns for protection and there's gonna gangs and wars on the streets!

But luckily for me, the Berkeley-Albany Bar Association came to my rescue (again). They had a professor at the UC Berkeley law school come and give us a lecture on the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms -- and gun control!

"In the case of Washington DC vs. Heller," said our speaker, "the Supreme Court dealt with the personal right of citizens to own firearms -- declaring that the Second Amendment included the right to own and use some kind of handgun." The Washington law had stated that NO handguns were to be allowed in the District of Columbia but the Supreme Court had ruled that the DC law couldn't be justified under the Second Amendment.

Good grief! Did Ashley's boyfriend's mugger have a handgun?

"The Supreme Court decided that the personal right to bear arms DID include the right to bear handguns," the speaker continued, "because in 1776, officers in the Revolutionary Army had been encouraged to carry flintlocks." Apparently, under the Second Amendment, shotguns and rifles have always been freely allowed but handguns are more tightly controlled. "Why? Because handguns are concealable. And this concealability has amazing criminological consequences. A handgun is nine times as likely to be used in a crime than a shotgun or rifle. And it is 80 times more likely to be used in an armed robbery."

So. Is the flintlock a concealable weapon? "I had my research assistant measure one," said our speaker. "It was 16 inches long. With THAT in your pocket, nobody is going to be glad to see you." So using the flintlock as the basis for the Supreme Court's decision was apparently not such a hot idea because concealability was definitely not a characteristic of flintlocks. "Justice Scalia didn't make a historic argument for his case -- he made a public opinion argument."

And what does this mean? "Does this mean that there is now also a Constitutional right for Americans to carry bazookas, tanks and antique cannons," if the Revolutionary Army had once carried them -- or if you can get one under your coat? The issue in this case is not about the right to bear arms but rather whether or not a firearm is concealable.

"Sawed-off shotguns have been made illegal. Why? It's the concealability issue. If concealability justified the 75-year-old law against sawed-off shotguns, then why did Scalia ignore that law here instead of making sawed-off shotguns legal too?" Apparently Scalia will do anything he can get away with, in order to form opinions that he likes. "Roberts on the other hand will avoid making distinctions in a particular case that will get the court in trouble later on."

Does this mean that if Ashley's boyfriend had gotten 'jacked by a bad guy carrying a sawed-off shotgun, then if said bad guy is caught then he would now have a valid defense? That he was entitled to carry one under the Second Amendment -- because Justice Scalia said so?

"We need to restrict the use of handguns to people who have special needs for handguns," said our speaker. Let cops use them but not bad guys. And keep them out of the hands of Mae West!

"There is also another un-analyzed issue regarding concealability. If you use handguns in your home, then they are NOT concealed." Apparently this issue was also not considered in the DC law. "Whoever writes these gun control laws seems to come out of the slums of American constitutional law. The DC law was written sloppily, was a terrible law."

The speaker also got on the cases of conservative judges. "They claim not to be activists -- but this Supreme Court decision was more activist than even Roe vs. Wade, which was based on earlier precedence. But here Scalia just set this up out of the blue, with no close reasoning. It was a court going out of its way to go as far as it could go to make one single case set law. That's not conservative at all. The real damage and radicalization of Scalia's decision didn't take place in this case but in the precedence of using court decisions to make radical changes in American law."

So. What have we learned? That it's now okay for Ashley's boyfriend to get 'jacked by someone carrying a flintlock -- or even a bazooka -- if he can disguise it under his coat?

"Concealability isn't going to be an issue if there is a revolution. When people defend their right to bear arms in order to protect themselves from tyranny, they are really only defending their right to carry shotguns and rifles." That appears to be the original intent of the framers of the Constitution. "Was the Second Amendment designed to be personal? Or was it designed to give citizens access to guns to be used as instruments against oppressive government?" If there is the need for another Revolution in America, will it be fought with concealed weapons such as handguns? Hardly.

"What is the effect of this new Supreme Court decision on state and local laws? How will it effect California? No one knows." The speaker then went on to suggest an alternative to what we now perceive as gun control -- where a gun-control law not a matter of all or nothing, a choice between letting people drive tanks through the streets of our cities or else having no guns at all. "As things now stand, statewide registering and licensing cannot be taken over by municipalities." This is too bad because different parts of a state may have different uses for weapons. Country towns where hunting is common could be more pro-gun while cities could have more gun control.

"Gun control proponents go on these doomed symbolic crusades against all guns. But what we need is a well-drafted and non-punitive law that would give cities more power to legislate conditions for their own localities and also require gun dealers and sellers to be effected by these laws as well. This isn't rocket science." So we CAN have laws that control guns effectively -- laws that everyone could live with.

For instance, in states like perhaps Oklahoma, Wyoming or Minnesota where farmers and ranchers hunt as a way of life and are trained in safe gun use from childhood, the laws could be more lenient. But in urban areas where robberies are a problem, not so much. When the NRA screams, "Remember New Orleans," where people used guns to defend their property, NRA spokesmen conveniently forget to bring up that the looters had access to guns too.

"But what about knives?" asked young Ashley. "When knives are concealed, they are illegal." Like sawed-off shotguns? "So why is there such a big hullabaloo about controlling concealed handguns but nobody gives a hoot that there are laws to control concealed knives."

According to Carl Donath, "The California state law states that anything capable of ready use as a stabbing weapon is illegal. All concealed knives are a felony (except non-locking folders)." Holy sheep dookie. Concealed knives are more illegal than concealed Glocks! And what if you are a sushi chef on your way home from work with your knife and you get stopped by a cop? You're screwed.

So why isn't there a National Knife Association protesting this injustice as well? Could it be that because gun manufacturers make more money making guns than knife manufactures get paid for making knifes, the gun lobby has more billions to throw around in Washington and therefore has more effect on our laws? Good point, Ashley.

And speaking of laws designed to protect us Americans from bad guys, perhaps if there had been better laws in place regarding the possession of concealed weapons, there might be four more Oakland police officers alive today.

"Remember Oakland!"

The BABA speaker's main point appeared to be that if we had more well-thought-out gun control laws in America, we would still be able to defend ourselves -- yet also be able to cut down on handgun crime and to regulate the dangers of concealability. We could have it all. We could make everyone happy -- with the possible exception of Justice Scalia. And me. I want a bazooka!

PS: My friend Claudette just e-mailed me that gun sales have been rising extremely rapidly lately. "Over the weekend I spent time with some friends from Wyoming and they were telling me about how guns and ammo were just flying off the shelves there."

Claudette also sent me an article from the Associated Press stating, "Concern that the Obama administration could impose a new ban on some semiautomatic weapons is driving worried gun owners to stockpile ammunition and cartridge reloading components at such a rate that manufacturers can't meet demand."

However, according to my friend Larry, another reason for the accelerated sale of guns and ammunition might be due to their investment potential. With the dollar tanking right now and the price of gold being so high that people really gotta think long and hard before converting their IRAs to bullion in order to protect their investments, perhaps Americans are starting to think, "Hey, gee, I could buy some Rugers, Colts and Brownings instead. They will always have value. One can always re-sell one's guns."

PPS: Ashley is now in the market for a new iPod.