Friday, April 12, 2013

Guns and the Man in the Middle

When it comes to “Gun Control,” I think I’m somewhat of a centrist. I like the feel of a gun in my hand. And I have owned many.

I’ve been firing guns since I was 17; that’s when I entered the military. After four years in the Air Force and 22 in the Philadelphia Police Department, I have had ample training with handguns, rifles, and shotguns.

When I therefore go to a gun dealer in my (now) home state of New Jersey, one would expect that I could legally purchase a single handgun for private use with some semblance of efficiency, given my background.

So why the devil does it take three months for me to be “approved” for a handgun purchase? Now I’m not talking about approval for carrying  a handgun. Federal law already dictates that I can legally carry a handgun in any state, by virtue of my honorable retirement as an American law enforcement officer.

It seems paradoxical that federal law permits me to carry a firearm, but the Peoples’ Republic of New Jersey wants me to wait three months before they give me “permission” to buy one.

But I chose to live here, so I abide by Jersey’s law—foolish and excessive though I believe it to be. Personally, I want only those legally fit to operate a firearm to be able to legally own one. Does that mean I’m a gun control advocate? Or does my affinity for guns make me a gun nut?

Doesn’t the answer depend on what exactly is meant by those very broad and over-generalized terms? Some activists called Charlton Heston a gun nut, while other advocates looked at Adolf Hitler as a gun control fanatic.

Ask any sane individual (whose job does not depend on votes), and likely they’ll say that, yes, they do believe in some kind of firearms’ control. Indeed; how could any reasonable adult declare that guns should be made as available as loaves of bread?

But what I mean by gun control can be vastly different from my neighbor’s definition of those two words.

I have no difficulty with my state of residence checking backgrounds to insure that a potential purchaser of a gun is not someone who is likely to use a firearm for an illegal purpose. And in today’s culture of immediate communication, the three-month New Jersey wait is unjustifiable for any law-abiding American, whether a law enforcement officer or a hairdresser. (Active New Jersey cops must also go through this process if they wish to buy a gun. Absurd, isn’t it?)

There are those, however, whose idea of gun control is to make guns illegal—illegal to own, to transport, to manufacture. Furthermore, some even argue that any gun—legal or not—removed from the street, is a step in the right direction; ergo police should not even be armed.

The trouble with that assertion is simple: It doesn’t remove the illegal user. And wouldn’t drug dealers, thugs, gang members, and organized crime support that idea of gun control!

Sensible control of firearms lies somewhere between New Jersey’s indefensible quarter-year waiting period and a casual exchange of guns like buying cans of soup from a Wal-Mart.

I’ve been investigated and fingerprinted so frequently (military service, police department work, teacher’s certification), that I have no problem with anyone checking my background, and I’m inherently suspicious of anyone who rants against such investigations.

As a retired law enforcement officer, I have to be certified annually to maintain my right to carry a firearm. That means a trip to an approved firing range and evaluation by a licensed firearms trainer as I fire dozens of rounds from various positions. I believe I’d be a fool to object to that.

Can someone explain why I should not object to a similar precondition for any potential gun owner? Especially since most are neither as proficient nor as experienced a shooter as I. If you want to own a gun, don’t you also want to be schooled in the legality and proficiency of its use?

In my opinion, if you can handle the background check, and then a certified trainer declares that you can safely handle a gun, I believe the Constitution mandates that you have a right to legally acquire a firearm.

Perhaps the more accurate way to say it is that the Constitution mandates that our elected officials have no right to restrain you from legally acquiring a firearm.

So…am I a gun nut, or a gun control advocate?

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Give Those Mighty MACs a Hand

Embattled Rutgers Basketball coach Mike Rice is embattled no more. He’s been fired for hitting, shoving and rebuking his players with homosexual slurs. Now certain members of the Rutgers faculty are delivering an ultimatum to university President Robert Barchi, insisting that he resign over his first response to Rice’s behavior.

Barchi leveled a stiff fine ($75,000) on Rice, suspended him, and made him attend anger-management counseling. Losing about 12 percent of his salary and attending behavior-modification classes may seem like a realistic punitive reaction to Rice’s conduct—and it apparently was five months ago when all this took place last fall—but then something was added to the equation.

The media got hold of a video tape showing Rice carrying on at a 2012 practice, and…well, you know what happens next. Call it media overkill, call it airing dirty laundry in public, call it letting the cat out of the bag, call it whistleblowing, call it, “Uh-oh; I thought I took care of all this!”

Whatever tag you put on this issue, one factor becomes increasingly clear: Many, if not most private decisions at this level eventually become public. You would think President Barchi had to realize that, especially since another nearby university president (Penn State’s Graham Spanier) found himself attired in similar dirty laundry just a few short (by news media standards) years ago.

During my last three years as a Philadelphia Police supervisor, one of my prime responsibilities was to train all of our command staff—more than 200 senior officers—in media relations. Every month we would put about a dozen commanders through an intensive two-day course concerning the “Do’s  & Don’t’s”  of dealing with print and electronic media.

And one of the platitudes that I would (try to) hammer home was, “Assume the media is eventually going to find out; so disclose sooner rather than later. Get it out, and get it over-with!” Or, as the IHM nuns taught us back in St. Dominic School, “Whatever you do in private, if you act as though you’re doing it in the presence of Jesus, you can’t go wrong.”

Or something like that.

It’s sort of like ripping a bandage from a wound—Do it quickly and get the discomfort out of the way.

Too many high-powered individuals in high-profile positions never seem to take that dictum seriously. They instead seem to adopt the, “It won’t happen to me” attitude: Richard Nixon…Graham Spanier…Hillary Clinton…Robert Barchi…

Who will be next? And you can be sure; there will be a next time.

Contemporary media is everywhere. With cell phones, iPads, and PCs, every boorish busybody is an instant worldwide reporter. Not as omnipresent as Jesus, of course, but close enough to give us pause when considering how we will be held accountable for our actions.

Those nuns were really ahead of their time, weren’t they!