Monthly Archives: July 2015

Thoughts on the 2nd Amendment

I like guns.  I really do.  I understand their fascination.  Back in 1956 and 1957 I was on the small-bore competition rifle team in high school.  I was pretty good, too.  Some years later, I competed on my police department’s pistol team, qualifying expert most of the time, and master twice.  But, except for target shooting to maintain my proficiency for the possibility that one day I might have to, God forbid, shoot someone in my duty to serve and protect, there was really no compelling reason for me to have a gun.

The primary purpose of a gun is to kill; target shooting is just practice for that ultimate use.  A peace officer may legitimately kill only in self defense or in defense of another.  The military, which includes the militia, which these days is the National Guard, legitimately kills only in national defense.  A hunter legitimately kills only for needed food or if he is attacked by a vicious animal while traipsing through the wilds.  A citizen may legitimately kill only in self-defense or in defense of another.

Any gun that is not used for killing, legitimately or otherwise, regardless of its size and firepower, is a toy.  A privately owned P-51 Mustang with three fifty caliber machine-guns in each wing, if such a thing were allowed to be owned and used by a private citizen, would be a toy.  But to believers that the 2nd Amendment allows no limits on what arms a citizen may keep and bear, even that should be allowed.  Target shooting and sport hunting is playing with toys.  Target competition is playing, even in the Olympics; it merely illustrates the proficiency with which the competitors would be able to kill in other circumstances.  Many other “sports” are the same.  The original purpose of javelins, which are spears, was to kill hunted prey for food, competing or attacking predators, or enemies in battle.  Shot-put probably evolved from throwing stones at animals and enemies.  Archery is basically the same as target shooting but with weapons that don’t go boom.  Tradition is a fine sentiment, but going into the woods to kill an animal for the trophy or unneeded meat, is play.  The play is to pretend to be an essential protector or provider for the tribe huddling back at the cave, or some variation of that.  Killing for play, even animals, has long been losing its legitimacy, which Merriam-Webster Reference Library defines as conforming to recognized principles or accepted rules or standards.  It’s pretty much going out of favor the same way as pit-bull fighting, cock-fighting, bullfighting, and throwing Christians to the lions.

When the founding fathers wrote the U. S. Constitution there were no police in the colonies, only the federal military, the state militias, which, at that time, were all able-bodies men that could be called upon to aid the small military in repelling invaders, and the citizenry.  The larger cities might have sheriffs and their staffs to maintain order, but in the towns and villages, a homeowner, farmer, or shopkeeper had to rely on himself and his neighbors to keep safe in the course of daily living.  Without a trusty musket over his mantle, things could get dicey.

But, did those great men intend that the 2nd Amendment they added should limit this country’s ability to control criminal violence for all time?  Or was it to allow citizens to protect themselves and their new homeland in a culture that had no other local protection until such time that the evolving nation developed a better system?  Could they have envisioned gangs and cartels over two hundred years later with open-market access to assault weapons?  Could they have envisioned assault weapons?  Could they have envisioned a future with access to guns so common that a deranged person could go down to the corner, buy a gun, and then walk into a theater or shopping mall or airport and shoot people at random?  Or how about a school child who could bring his father’s unsecured gun to class to show off to his peers, or to threaten them—or to shoot them?  Might they have envisioned their progeny developing trained agencies to police the towns and counties of their new nation?

I believe they did, and they built on their faith in us.  With wisdom seldom demonstrated since, this country’s founders included Article 5 in the United States Constitution as a method to amend the amazing document they created, the Constitution that was to be the supreme law of the land.  Even the admonition that the right to bear arms shall not be infringed is an amendment, an addition, to the original, none of which, by the way, was carved in stone.

How did such deadly toys become so sacred that they can only be pried from cold, dead hands?  Could our founders have envisioned a society so enraptured with guns that we refuse to use the tools they gave us to adjust our Constitution as needed?  Probably not.

So, why all the guns?  Are they really to prevent a president from using the military to make himself a dictator?  Does anyone actually believe that the United States military, or any part of it large enough to make any difference, could be blindly led into supporting or even allowing a president to become a dictator?  Does anyone really believe that if such a thing did occur, an armed citizenry could prevail against them?  Does such paranoia really exist, or is it merely a ploy that, shouted loud and often, is intended to deter saner minds from denying them toys that have become too abundant and too dangerous to amass in the toy box?

It has taken a long time to get here, so we should not expect a quick fix.  There are so many guns in this country that it is said we can never be rid of them.  Perhaps.  But, even if it takes longer to get rid of them than it took to amass them, it will never end if it never begins.  With an amended 2nd Amendment, perhaps one that spells out what a well-regulated American militia means in the 21st century, we can begin to move away from such violence that too often resembles the chaos of the Middle East.

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Coming release of latest book

I’m happy to announce I am getting closer to finishing Wolfehaven, the third book in the Refuge Omnibus series. I’m not sure just how close, but close enough for me to see it on the horizon. More to come.

Use of choke-holds by police

Since I saw the headlines about Eric Garner dying during a confrontation with a police officer in New York, especially when he called out more than once that he couldn’t breath, I’ve been wondering what went wrong. Something did. It shouldn’t have happened. I don’t mean Mr. Garner being arrested. That is a completely different issue, which I will not get into at this time. What I will get into, though, is the use of a choke-hold.

I’ll start out by saying a choke-hold can be a good, effective and safe method of controlling a combative prisoner or someone about to become a prisoner. That’s right–safe. But only if it is done correctly. I know because I’ve used them on combative persons a few times in my eighteen years on a police department, and not one of them died or suffered lasting ill effects, or even filed a brutality complaint against me.

I’m afraid the problem is that there are officers out there that don’t know how to properly apply a choke-hold. If there are police academies that skip over that little item in their arrest procedures classes, it goes right back on them, and there is no excuse for it. In any police department that allows or encourages its officers to use choke-holds, it is the department’s responsibility to ensure that every officer is trained in the proper method for its use. If an officer serves in a position, either on the street or in a jail environment, that he might need to use a choke hold for his safety as well as that of the person he is trying to subdue, there is no defense the department can use to justify him not being properly trained. Yes, it also falls, ultimately, on the officer not to use a choke-hold, or anything else, if he is not trained to use it. Unless the situation is so dire that he would be justified to bash the person over the head with a baseball bat rather than let him escape, if he doesn’t know how to use a choke-hold, he shouldn’t even try. And I don’t mean it’s okay if he thinks he knows how; I mean unless he has been trained and demonstrated after his training that he knows how. It is simply too easy to kill a person. Better to let him get away and catch him another time.

Another thing to be aware of is that even a properly applied choke-hold may not work on obese persons due to the amount of tissue in the neck.  If there is so much stuff there that the carotid arteries cannot be closed off with applied pressure, it shouldn’t even be attempted. Enough pressure to accomplish that job may break his neck first. From what I remember of the video of Eric Garner, he was pretty hefty. Maybe the officer’s arm around his neck was meant only as a restraining hold and not intended to put him out. But, if that was the case, it appears he wasn’t trained in the proper way to apply a restraining choke-hold (which is not really supposed to choke him). Alas, in a bad situation that is getting worse, panic is probably never far away, and panic has a way of increasing the amount of energy expended in whatever is attempted. But, that is straying away from the use of a choke-hold and into issues I don’t want to tackle right now.

So, back to using a choke-hold safely, and I am not just blowing air. If a choke-hold is done the right way, the person being choked has no problem breathing. I know; that sounds like an oxymoron. But that is because it isn’t really a choke-hold. It is just called that because it probably evolved over time from a real choke-hold in which a person was deprived of the ability to breathe until he passed out–or died.

What a properly applied choke-hold does is cut off the flow of blood to his brain. Now, doing that is just as dangerous as stopping his breathing, so knowing when to release the pressure is at least as important as knowing where and how to apply the pressure. Held too long, depriving the brain of oxygen for too long, which can be mere seconds, and serious damage occurs causing anything from permanent impairment to death. I’m talking seconds, here. You can’t hold a conversation with someone else while you’re waiting for the guy to stop fighting. You can’t hold him for a bit longer after he stops struggling just to be sure he’s not bluffing. As soon as he goes limp you have to release him. No waiting. No finishing your phone call to your girlfriend. You release him immediately. But that’s not the end of it. If you and he are on your feet, you have to hang onto him and ease him down so he doesn’t fall and break his head. Remember, he is unconscious, and you are the one who put him that way. You then have to check him for life signs to be sure you didn’t hold him for too long. Make sure he has a pulse and is breathing. If he isn’t, start CPR immediately. Make sure he is lying in a position that his breathing isn’t impaired. Make sure the surrounding mob doesn’t take turns kicking him. Make sure he isn’t lying across the tracks with a train coming. You put him out, and he is your responsibility. Put the cuffs on him, but, otherwise, let him come around. It won’t take long.

One of the occasions in which I used a choke-hold was in the booking room. The guy I had arrested was young, healthy, and just a bit drunk, although not falling down; just enough to be belligerent and uncooperative. As soon as I got him into the booking room and before I could close and lock the door, he decided he had had enough of that nonsense and was going to leave. I grabbed him before he got to the door, and the fight was on, although no one actually got hit. I got around to his back side with both of us sitting on the floor and put a choke-hold on him. In less than ten seconds he went limp and I released him. After checking him for life signs, I elected to postpone the rest of booking until he had sobered up. I dragged him through the doorway into the cell block and into the first empty cell where I left him lying on the floor. Before I could turn to leave the cell, he stirred, looked up at me with wide eyes and, in a wonderous voice, said, “Wow! What a trip!”

I’m not going to describe the technique for using choke-holds for the same reason I’m not going to describe how to make a Molotov cocktail or pipe bomb. Insisting that this should not be attempted at home merely prods some folks to try it. And, like I said, choke-holds can, indeed, be lethal if not done correctly, and that can be learned only through training.

I won’t say a part of the training has to involve having a choke-hold placed on each trainee, but it’s not a bad idea. We did it in the academy I attended many years ago. I remember the pressure on both sides of my neck, but I also remember being able to breath with no problem. I remember it started with a ringing in my ears, then a diminishing of daylight starting at the edges of my vision and moving inward fairly quickly. I remember everything going black, and then waking up lying on my back. There was no pain, either before or afterwards. It was an experience I have never forgotten. And I don’t doubt it was something that has prevented me from having other experiences that I wish I could forget.

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