Many Open-Carry fanatics know little about the culture that surrounds them, and know even less about the public commons they enjoy, and, out of ignorance, may destroy.
An Iraq war veteran posted this editorial/opinion piece in the Wausau Daily Herald last week. My response follows.
"I am an American citizen, a college graduate, an Iraq War veteran, a brother, a friend, a role model and very soon I will be an uncle. For each of these people that I am, there is always one constant: I carry a firearm, concealed or open, legally, for the protection of myself, my family and my friends."
He went on to describe an incident at a Pick 'n Save grocery store in a small Wisconsin town. He entered that store in late January, without a jacket appropriate for the weather, wearing just a short sleeve shirt, pants and a cap, his .45 caliber semiautomatic clearly visible in a hip holster.
A store manager asked him to cover the weapon, stating that customers were becoming uneasy at the sight of it. Dressed as he was, the armed man was not able to comply, and apparently not willing to ask his friend for a jacket to drape over the sidearm, and the store manager asked him to leave.
Quoting from the opinion piece:
"My friend exited the store sometime later, and the manager walked back inside. She and I went to the car and went home. The cold had numbed my arms and severely restricted the movement of my hands and fingers. If I had needed to draw my weapon in the Pick 'N Save parking lot, I would have been unsuccessful.
I believe I should not be demonized for carrying my personal firearm for personal protection. I have spent time overseas carrying firearms every day, but when I come home, it's as if I'm suddenly no longer qualified to use the very tools I've been using in a combat zone. That does not sit right at all. In fact, it has only made me more determined to familiarize myself with state laws and company policies, so that I will be prepared to confront those who would violate my Second Amendment rights."
You have presented your credentials. I present mine. I too am an American. I am a husband, a father, a son, an uncle, a college graduate, the son of a veteran. Perhaps I, too, have served as a role model. And I am old enough to be your father.
My father owned many different types of firearms and taught my brother and I the awesome responsibility that comes with owning, carrying and brandishing firearms. I have owned many firearms over the years, in almost every caliber manufactured.
You were brave enough to submit your grievance to what, in this nation, is called the marketplace of ideas. Your claims will be scrutinized for truth and honesty. But true courage compels you to hear what your fellow Americans have to say on the matter, and to weigh their thoughts carefully, completely, over time. Even more than that, you also have to be willing to grow, to evolve, to change your mind even.
I grew up among relatives who were very comfortable around firearms. Some of my cousins are veterans, among them one who served in Vietnam. They have served in the Army, the Air Force and the Marines. My father-in-law is a Navy veteran. My father is an Army veteran. But my relatives and I differ in our worldview, in several profound ways, from the one you present in your editorial.
Although we could carry sidearms in the public commons, we do not. And we do not because our "right" to do so, a right that is not nearly so clear as Second Amendment fanatics want it to seem, takes a back seat to our responsibility for the land we love, and its citizens, all of them. We do not engage in tribal thinking, we do not draw a line in the sand between our families and friends and anyone supposedly put on the other side of that imaginary line.
We are our brothers' keepers.
The culture we grew up in kept firearms unloaded, locked and boxed until we reached the hunting grounds, the firing range, the gun club or the gunsmith. I grew up in a country where the public commons, and any other public place or private business, with logical exceptions, was gun-free. Millions upon millions of Americans, for generations, have taken this for normal. Call it a blessing of liberty. Call it a common consent that this is the public commons we wanted, and made. It is the public commons they fought for, one that is free from fear.
I have lived in that country, and traversed that public commons, for over half a century. Welcome, young citizen, to the country we have made, which you now inherit. Is it possible you take our labor for granted? Are the sacrifices and service of my family invisible? They mean nothing to you? Your dubious "right" is paramount?
Recently a paranoid minority have pushed through new laws making it easier to carry sidearms in public. Their rationale; it is their "right". But these same people are strangely quiet about their responsibility to their fellow Americans, and remain mute and tongue-tied about the sanctity of a gun-free public commons.
Tribal thinking serves a platoon well, especially in hostile territory, among a hostile populace. But I challenge you to make a concise list of the ways in which civilian life in America is not, repeat not, like a tour of duty in Iraq. Reintegrating into American culture after a tour of duty is far more demanding, will take far more intellect, cunning, courage and discipline, than anything you have done in your young life to date.
You say you want to be ready to protect your family and friends. You do so at a cost, one you seem unwilling to notice: you intimidate innocent civilians who haven't lived private and public lives in the presence of firearms, haven't had to, and to whom the sight of an openly-carried sidearm is shocking. I have grown up around firearms, can field strip and reassemble a 100 year-old Savage .32 caliber semiautomatic blindfolded, and I'm shocked to see open-carry sidearms in public. I also choose to be aware of the shocking and stupid number of gun-related mishaps, and the harm they have caused the innocent.
I take my responsibility to other law-abiding, patriotic Americans very seriously. Their sense of safety matters to me. Have you really simplified your thinking to "It's me and my tribe against the world."? If so, you are pushing for a paradigm shift. A toxic one. Sorry, but most Americans, plenty of veterans among them, aren't ready to see public spaces and private businesses crowded with open-carry advocates. That is not the public commons that they, or my family, strove to create.
You open carry a sidearm into a Pick 'n Save, to be ready for any threat, but you fail to be ready for cold weather, for the possibility you'll have to spend more than a few minutes outdoors? Which scenario was more likely? It was so inconvenient to bring along a jacket? Is this balanced thinking? Or is it seriously distorted and faulty threat-assessment?
You emphasize that exposure numbed your arms and severely restricted the movement of your hands and fingers. Your concern: you couldn't draw your firearm in the Pick 'n Save parking lot.
My concern: you couldn't render first aid. What if an accident occurred in that parking lot? Statistically, that event is far, far more likely to occur. And you were not ready. What if the victim of that accident had been a nephew, a niece, or your friend?
You make the specious claim that you carry a sidearm to protect family members. You will soon be an uncle. You know a great deal about your firearm. I do too, and I also know a great deal about children. They are acutely aware of the emotional environment around them, and they have evolved to be experts in detecting fear and paranoia. Exposure to it does them great, long lasting harm.
That is why I and the majority of Americans do not carry sidearms in public, concealed or otherwise. Together, as Americans, we create a public commons where children, families, our elders, fathers and mothers, are protected from fear and paranoia, a far more prevalent and rampant malady than physical violence.
I suggest that you are not being honest with yourself, or with us. I suggest that you, at some level, planned to be a provocateur, that you are not so innocent, not so much the victim you portray. Your editorial is a cry for help.
Fear compels you to carry that firearm to guard against the statistically extremely remote possibility of a need to use it. I have a truly terrifying suggestion, one that no firearm can protect you from. See a therapist. The enemy isn't "out there" somewhere. The enemy has already broached your perimeter and burrowed into your psyche. You did not deprogram completely after your tour. You harbor trust issues that cause you to draw stark but illusory lines between your tribe and "outsiders". No sidearm can dislodge an enemy that lies within. And you can't face this enemy alone. You were trained and disciplined to work in a team.
The issue of your "right" to open-carry a sidearm is a red herring. The real issues will emerge after you summon the courage to submit to professionally facilitated self-examination, after you volunteer for a tour of duty inside your psyche. You are bound by honor, duty and self-respect to take that tour. You also owe it to your family and friends.
On this last tour of duty you will face fears more formidable, devious and cunning than any foe you faced in Iraq. But there is more. You will not be alone. And you will learn to throttle fear, to make your weakness a source of strength. You will gain new means to assess threats. You will forge new intellectual weapons to protect yourself, your family and your friends from fear. These are more powerful than any sidearm. And they are a gift to those you love.
No one can tell you how to do this. You must teach yourself, with help from your team. It will take discipline and courage. Your goal is to join us on a public commons that is free of fear. So many Americans have sacrificed so much to create it. It is a blessing of liberty. Accept this gift. You are welcome here.
I am an American, a father, a son, an uncle, and many more things to my family, friends and neighbors. And I tell you, my son, out of a fierce love of freedom, and a fierce hatred of self-deceit, that you haven't come home yet. You are still at war, a war you cannot win until you dislodge the enemy within.
Satirist Maynard McKillen hails from Wisconsin, where he enjoys skewering the idiots of the Republican-majority state government.