Thursday, October 15, 2009

Good sense?

Carrying a weapon is an individual's natural right. Threatening others with the weapon is not. The difficult question is: when is carrying, threatening?

There was a post on the today that told the story of a father who took his son to the neighborhood park while openly carrying a sidearm in a holster. When walking home, the police stopped him and, through a series of give and take exchanges, the father ended up handcuffed and peppered with questions from several cops. Eventually he was released with no charges, but the event was traumatizing to him and his son.

The story is about the encounter, but I have a hard time getting past the initial event. What possessed the father to wear a handgun to a park with his young (4 year old?) son? Was he legitimately concerned about his safety in a dangerous neighborhood? Was he making a point about his right to carry? Was this his normal habit on any given day?

All of these reasons are perfectly defensible from a traditional libertarian perspective. Being armed is not, in and of itself, anything to condemn anyone for. On the other hand, wearing a gun to a children's park is something akin to a touched homeless person haranguing passersby on a busy city sidewalk. He may be harmless, but his actions are disconcerting to the point of being threatening to some people. Does civil society assume the peaceful intentions of the gun carrier and ignore all displays of weaponry until a shot is fired, or does society work to protect the gentle feelings of the people who are shocked and fearful of the sight of an openly carried gun?

The people who responded to the post at generally agreed that the father had done nothing wrong. The police, they said, overreacted and violated the father's rights. I a point. Then I remember another story from a number of years ago....

A man chose to carry a shotgun down a busy city sidewalk. The state in which he did this had an open-carry law, so technically he was within his rights to do so. The man was stopped by police, and questioned. The police agreed that he was within his rights to carry the gun down the street. Then they ticketed him....for disturbing the peace. The man had caused such a fright by his actions, the police contended, that it was very similar to intolerable unruly behavior. In other words: go ahead and carry, but don't scare people. I was tickled when I read that story because it showed uncommon common sense on the part of the police.

As humans living among other humans, interpersonal relations are messy. The exact points at which my rights begin and end are anything but totally objective, though the general outlines should be visible for anyone with the willingness to see. On the raw edges between people, sometimes rights don't mean much. Sometimes it comes down to the very unphilosophical and sloppy approach known as "common sense."

Instead of the gun toting father insisting that every last drip of his "rights" be respected, a little charity toward his fellow humans (in the form of considering how his actions will affect others) would go a long way toward gaining the respect he desires.

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