Friday, January 18, 2002

Armed and dangerous

The right to be irresponsible

        I won't argue about the right to bear arms. The Second Amendment, loosely defined, says you can have a gun if you want one.

        My question is why do you want one?

        Personal security?

        That's what people usually say when asked why they kept the gun around that their kid found or that their spouse used to settle a family argument.

        It's also what the private detective, the hair dresser, the pizza delivery man and the food service worker all said in the lawsuit they filed to get Ohio's law against carrying concealed weapons tossed out.

        Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Robert Ruehlman obliged them last week. He said there is no reason on earth why law-abiding citizens shouldn't be allowed to pack a gun so that they will be able to defend their personal security with “brute force.”

        Judge Ruehlman's opinion set a new standard for legal clarity. For those of us often left cross-eyed by the reasoning of the judiciary, this opinion was written in the plain language of the street.

        The judge made it crystal clear that, in his opinion, there are good people and bad people, and that society would be much better off if the bad people knew up front that the good people were prepared to blow them away.

        “Amidst all of the baying from gun opponents is the irrefutable fact that there will always be people in our society who refuse to follow any rules and who can never be reasoned with or rehabilitated. These people have no conscience and no qualms about doing harm to innocent persons,” the judge wrote in his opinion.

        Just so we are clear, the “gun opponents” in the case that was before the judge were the State of Ohio, Gov. Robert Taft, Sheriff Simon Leis, Police Chief Thomas Streicher, “and all of the law enforcement organizations in Hamilton County involved in the enforcement of R.C.2923.12 and R.C.2923.16,” which means every cop in the county.

        The “baying” of these radical gun-opponents refers to their concern that without a law against concealed carry, there are likely to be a lot more people out on the street with guns in their pockets. If you are a cop who confronts people over traffic violations, domestic disturbances, loud music or spitting in public, this is a concern for you.

        But it ought to be more of a concern for those of us who aren't cops. The police, after all, are trained to confront people and to assume that every situation has the potential to turn lethal. The rest of us are not.

        Fortunately, for my sense of personal security, the Ohio First District Court of Appeals has issued a stay to the judge's order that the police stop enforcing the concealed-carry law, while the Ruehlman decision is appealed.

        This will also allow the Ohio General Assembly time to write a new law. You see, Judge Ruehlman was absolutely right that the existing law is a bad law. It says you can carry a concealed weapon under certain circumstances, but those circumstances are so vague that you have to get arrested and go to court to find out if you are carrying legally. That violates the presumption of innocence.

        The legislature needs to write a law with reasonable conditions on things like who gets to have a gun permit and how much training they should be required to have. I do think, however, those limits need to be a little more stringent than the judge, or the plaintiffs in this case, would like.

        Most of us, when objecting to a bad haircut, a cold pizza or a waiter who messes up our order, don't expect to be confronted with someone packing a gun. Under the logic of the plaintiffs and Judge Ruehlman, we should.

        “There is no doubt,” the judge wrote, that the notion that everyone might be carrying a gun “deters that element of our society that cares nothing about laws or human life but rather understands only one thing — brute force.”

        As far as I know, “brute force” is not a legal term. Nor is it what I would call enlightened social policy, but then I am not a judge. I'm just a law-abiding citizen who hopes I don't inadvertently bump into somebody packing a little personal security.

        Contact David Wells at 768-8310; fax: 768-8610; e-mail: Cincinnati.Com keyword: Wells.


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