I’ve been following Michael Yon for quite some time, since he was an independent journalist embedded with US armed forces in Iraq and then Afghanistan. He’s a bit of a loose cannon, and I certainly don’t agree with everything he writes1, but this post makes some good points: Be a Palm Tree: Tobacco, Rebel Flag, 2nd Amendment.
The basic thesis is that back in the day smokers never took the complaints of non-smokers seriously. They arrogantly assumed that their rights as smokers trumped the rights of other folks to, for example, not be enveloped in a smog of carcinogens when stepping into an elevator. As a result of their rigid position, when the public sentiment turned against smokers and smoking it turned hard and they lost basically everything. He extends the same idea to the defenders of the confederate battle flag, arguing that if they’d been satisfied to fly the flag on their private property and wear it on hats and belt buckles, their probably would have been little uproar, but their insistence on flying the flag over (or very near) state buildings set up the backlash we’re seeing today.
And then Yon gets to what I thought was most interesting: open carry.
Open carry refers to carrying a firearm openly (i.e. not concealed) and in many states (like Virginia, where I live) it is legal in most places and does not require a permit. The open carry movement is a loose coalition of gun rights organizations who, under the mantra of “use it or lose it,” engage in open carry to prevent the right from fading into obsolescence. Yon, as a person who grew up around guns, is strongly supportive of the 2nd Amendment and is supportive of open carry in general, but he has a problem with open carry extremists:
Those of us who have seen people shot both intentionally and negligently – I have seen plenty – do not like to be in the presence of goofballs with guns in their hands. Even trained US combat troops regularly shoot and kill fellow troops through negligence. British forces also do this… Hundreds of troops have been killed and wounded since 2001 by gunshot ‘accidents,’ which the military calls negligent discharges… US military commanders do not allow most troops to carry loaded weapons on any but the most dangerous bases: we typically take more casualties on bases from negligent discharges than from insider attacks. And this is from trained troops.
So, when Yon reads about a open carry advocate carrying a shotgun into a Walmart and then loading and racking a shotgun. That’s not a made-up example, and the local police chief (the incident took place in Gulfport, MS) was not amused:
“If I were in a situation where I’m in the store shopping with my family and I see an individual loading a 12 gauge, and racking it, I’m not coming to the conclusion this is good,” said Papania. “While the actions of these two men are sanctioned by state laws, what they did negatively impacted our community.”
Yon also goes further, and cites basic common decency. Although folks (like Yon) who grow up around guns do not bat an eye at responsible open carry, there are lots of Americans who did not have that background and are scared at the sight of a firearm. Common courtesy says that you shouldn’t go out of your way to further intimidate, harass, or scare folks like that. Let them be.
All of this leads Yon to conclude that “Fanatics are being allowed to hijack 2nd Amendment issues.” I agree with Yon on that, and also on his final words from the post:
Many of us want to keep the 2nd Amendment strong. We must pay attention to our political environment, and to history. We must be the Palm Tree, and understand that no right is absolute, and that our rights never trump the rights of others.