Chicago, Concealed Carry, And Why Robert Heinlein Was Wrong About "Polite Society"

Mary Shepard, of rural Cobden, Ill., poses in April in her kitchen with her 9mm Kel-Tec PF-9 handgun. She is noted for being the plaintiff in a winning lawsuit that compelled Illinois to pass a concealed carry law. (Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune)
Mary Shepard, of rural Cobden, Ill., poses in April in her kitchen with her 9mm Kel-Tec PF-9 handgun. She is noted for being the plaintiff in a winning lawsuit that compelled Illinois to pass a concealed carry law. (Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune)
Mary Shepard, of rural Cobden, Ill., poses in April in her kitchen with her 9mm Kel-Tec PF-9 handgun. She is noted for being the plaintiff in a winning lawsuit that compelled Illinois to pass a concealed carry law. (Chris Walker, Chicago Tribune)
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Concealed carry has steadily been spreading across the United States over the past 30 years. It is now accepted to one degree or another in all 50 states. The next major series of battles will be forcing “may issue” jurisdictions who have denied a citizen’s right to carry for arbitrary and capricious reasons to convert to “shall issue” jurisdictions, where the state must provide a reason why citizen’s may not carry.

The District of Columbia was/is the last large “gun free zone” in the United States, and a federal judge’s recent decision affirming the right to carry a handgun even there comes as a huge blow to those who favor gun control. Palmer vs. DC will of course be appealed, but recent judicial history suggests that the District will inevitably have to pass a concealed carry law.

Lawful concealed carriers aren’t the problem, and have never been the problem… something that we’ve known for years within the carry community that even a newspaper in one of the most anti-gun cities in the nation is now beginning to admit.

Concealed carry is the overwhelming norm already; these rulings have added it in just a few places. Even if the Supreme Court said the Second Amendment doesn’t mandate the policy, it would persist almost everywhere.

In any case, it’s not something to worry much about. One thing we have learned from the spread of concealed carry is that few people take advantage of it…

[snip]

And most of them don’t pack most of the time….

[snip]

Those who do carry rarely misuse them…

[snip]

In practice, licenses to carry guns in public have allowed law-abiding citizens to take steps they see as essential for their safety, without putting their fellow citizens in danger. It’s people who lack licenses you have to fear.

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While I’d argue with some of the details in Steve Chapman’s op-ed in the Chicago Tribune—I recall reading somewhere recently that the number of concealed carriers is closer to 11 million that eight million—his overall conclusions are indeed sound, and born out by decades of evidence.

Everywhere that lawful concealed carry has spread, the forces of gun control have promised that the “wild west” would emerge. They claimed that there would be continual shootouts over slights both minor and imagined. They claimed that there would be “blood in the streets,” many heat-of-the-moment shootings, rashes of accidental discharges, innocent bystanders shot, and the rampant brandishing of firearms for the least little bit of provocation.

They promised all of this… and they were wrong, each and every time, in each and every state.

Why have gun control supporters been so wildly off the mark, so consistently? Why are they seemingly always—almost without exception—wrong?
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In the end, it’s the simple difference between fantasy and reality.

People who support gun control live in a fantasy world and think the worst of our citizenry. 

They imagine that the people who chose to legally carry concealed weapons are poorly educated, predisposed to violence, prone to overreaction, and paranoid. The irony, of course, is that this same description perfectly describes most gun control supporters. The overwhelming majority are poorly educated, knowing very little about firearms, ammunition, relevant gun laws, firearms training, or human nature. They tend to personally be prone to violent outbursts (both rhetorically, and as the Mayors Against Illegal Guns convictions show, often literally). They are also typically paranoid, proclaiming that the slightest change in current laws will bring about dramatic and catastrophic results.

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Reality is something far different, as Mr. Chapman seems to realize in his Chicago Tribune op-ed.

Concealed carriers are far more law-abiding than the average citizen; they have to be, or wouldn’t pass the background checks to secure their permits. Concealed carriers tend to being far more rational, slower to anger, and less prone to extreme behavior that the average unarmed citizen. This is due both to the natural predisposition of many concealed carriers, and because they know that carrying a concealed weapon is an immense responsibility. Concealed carriers tend to be cautious instead of paranoid, and instead of looking for a reason to fight, tend to practice greater situational awareness and avoid potentially dangerous situations.

The writer Robert Heinlein was correct when he noted that “an armed society is a polite society,” but I’ve never bought his argument that an armed society is polite because, “manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.” The quote—which is almost always presented as a free-standing, self-evident argument—seems to assert that armed citizens are polite because they don’t want to do anything that might provoke others into killing them.

I’d suggest that the opposite is in fact true. People are the heroes of their own stories, and rarely, if ever, think of themselves in terms of being victims. They don’t think about dying in the scenarios they write in their heads. They think about winning, and living.

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Because of this natural tendency, I’d argue that an armed society is a polite society because citizens don’t want to be put in a position of having to take a life. We’d rather avoid conflict than be forced to kill in self-defense.

Of course, I have the advantage of hindsight over Heinlein. Heinlein died in 1988, just as the concealed carry movement was starting to grow and gain momentum. When he was writing of an armed society, he was dealing with what was essentially science fiction of a future culture.

In 2014, concealed carry is an established reality, and we know how concealed carriers actually act.

We are indeed a polite society, which they’re beginning to understand, even in such intellectually backwards places as Chicago and the District of Columbia.

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