Thursday, October 08, 2009

Guns, Irresponsible Behavior, and 2nd Amendment Rights

I came across this sad story about an apparent murder/suicide gun incident involving a woman who caused controversy some time back by packing a loaded weapon to her 5-yr-old daughter's soccer game. Although gun rights advocates will trot out the usual memes in explaining this incident, memes such as "guns don't kill people, people kill people," etc., such incidents can't avoid the connection between the insecurity of those who feel the need to call attention to 2nd amendment rights in such irresponsible ways, and the ultimate tragedy of what happens when such insecurity gets coupled with apparent mental instability. You get a murder/suicide, three young kids who are orphans overnight, and three young kids who themselves have to deal with the trauma of being at home to witness the murder/suicide of both parents. It makes me angry. But I don't want to harp on the murder/suicide and what it means for the whole gun control debate. What I do want to do is revisit the soccer game incident and offer some thoughts on where to draw the line between evidence of personal irresponsibility regarding guns and 2nd amendment rights to bear arms. From the above-linked MSNBC article:

Meleanie Hain made headlines after she attended a children's soccer game in a park on Sept. 11, 2008, with a handgun in plain view holstered on her hip, upsetting other parents.

The county sheriff, Michael DeLeo, revoked her gun-carrying permit nine days later.

Hain successfully appealed the permit revocation, although the judge who restored the permit questioned her judgment and said she had "scared the devil" out of other people at the game.

Hain sued DeLeo in federal court, alleging that he violated her constitutional rights and prosecuted her maliciously when he took the permit away. She said that because of his actions her baby-sitting service had suffered, her children had been harassed and she had been ostracized by her neighbors in Lebanon, which has about 25,000 residents.

DeLeo said at Hain's appeal that he revoked her permit after fielding the parents' complaints. He said he based his decision on a state law that prohibits certain gun permits from being given to anyone whose character and reputation make him or her a danger to public safety.

After Hain sued DeLeo, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which says it tries to reform the gun industry through sensible regulations, offered to defend him for free.

"It is a case that calls out for common sense," Brady Center attorney Daniel Vice said then. "It's ridiculous to bring a gun to a child's soccer game."
The issue, it seems to me, is the question of rights, responsibilities, and the authority's ability to decide when irresponsibility precludes rights.

I would argue that bringing a weapon to a children's soccer game at a public park, simply for the purpose of making a larger political point about the 2nd amendment is irresponsible behavior. It is, to echo Daniel Vice, "ridiculous" and not something that has much common sense about it. I'd even say that it is irresponsible behavior that borders on mentally unstable behavior. And I support DeLeo's decision to revoke this woman's gun-carrying permit for these reasons. Not everyone, by virtue of being a citizen, is entitled to the privilege of carrying a loaded gun around in public. Erratic or questionable or non-sensical behavior is reason enough to tell someone that their right to bear arms doesn't trump the rights of others to be protected from an irresponsible and potentially irrational/menatally unstable firearm bearer.

I also find that Hain's suit against DeLeo's decision reveals even more about her irresponsibility and the nuttiness of her thinking that would make DeLeo's decision to revoke her permit all the more justifiable. For Hains to argue that it was DeLeo's decision to revoke her permit, and not the fact that she showed up at the playground locked and loaded, which caused her babysitting business to suffer, the teasing that her kids faced, or her ostracization by the neighbors is quite absurd. What parent wouldn't pull his or her kids from a babysitting service upon hearing that the person doing the babysitting walked around kids with a loaded gun in full view? That's a tragic accident just waiting to happen. And it's no one's fault but Hain's that her business is suffering as a consequence. Same thing about being ostracized by the neighbors. Put it this way: I certainly wouldn't be hanging around (nor would I let my kids hang around) a household where what I think is erratic and unnecessarily risky behavior with firearms is taking place.

Finally, and I hate to say this, but I can't say that I'm surprised that the end of this story was a tragic murder/suicide. To me, it fits the pattern. Crazy people behaving in crazy, irresponsible ways with weapons is much more likely to lead to tragic gun violence in their lives than not.


Eric said...

Missouri's laws seem to add to the complexity of this story as well. Missouri allows for open carry without a permit (but, strangely to me, requires a permit for concealed carry) and there is no state law that would prevent one from carrying openly at a kid's soccer game. So I'm not entirely clear what 'permit' was revoked here by the sherriff. I think there are some details missing from what has been reported, but at face value I agree with you that Hain's suit against DeLeo was frivolous. If you seek publicity based around the fact that you carry a gun, you can't blame the sherriff for personal problems that result from said publicity.

As far as whether or not it should be legal to carry at a kid's soccer game, I have no problem with licensed concealed carriers being armed at such an event, but I think open carry is probably too passively agressive for such a charged environment.

Huck said...

Eric - I'm not sure where you got that this happened in Missouri. It was Pennsylvania. Did you mean Pennsylvania?

Also, your point about the open carry at a playground sporting event -- which you note is a charged environment where passions run high, especially among some overzealous parents -- as a worrisome expression of passive-aggressiveness, is a good point. It only underscores the reasonable judgment by DeLeo that Hain's behavior posed a threat to others.

Eric said...

Sorry, Huck... there is a town called Lebanon, MO with about 25k people in it (same size as the town referenced in this article) and I just assumd they were talking about that town.

My fault!

I can't claim to know much about PA's gun laws and don't have time to look it up this morning, but here is my question: is it legal in PA to carry an open firearm to a soccer game if you are licensed to do so. If it is, then the sherriff had no business revoking her license for carrying the gun at the game. He might have had other valid reasons, based on information he recieved from the community, to revoke her license, but if she was carrying within the limits of the law, then that shouldn't have been one of them. That doesn't mean I think she was right to openly carry at a kids soccer game, only that the sherriff might have been wrong to revoke her license for doing so.

andrew said...

Huck- As an avid gun owner, I can tell you right now I would NEVER carry openly.

Its foolish and dangerous. Police can carry openly because they're trained to instinctively break you in two as you go for the holster. Civilians are not.

I carry strong side pocket, jacket pocket on my strong side, or weak side inside the jacket. Myself and most of the people I know carry in a manner where the weapon is truly concealed.