Wednesday, September 21, 2011

SpoCon 2011: Meandering ... Part Two

SpoCon 2011:
Meandering Through Spokane’s Home Grown
Science Fiction
Fantasy Convention
Wally Lee Parker

(all rights to this material retained by author)

Part Two
a less elegant weapon for a less civilized age.”
            On Friday afternoon, the first day of the convention, we checked into our room on the 9th floor of the Doubletree Hotel.  We hurriedly dropped our stuff and rode the elevator back down to the lobby again.  The hotel staff directed us to the first floor’s Grand Ballroom.  A SpoCon representative posted at the Ballroom’s door pointed us toward the queue for the pre-registration table where we would pick up our pre-paid convention passes.
            “It’s quite a line,” the red-shirt said.  “You’d likely have gotten in a lot quicker if you hadn’t pre-registered.  The line for those buying passes today is just ten minutes long at the most.  The pre-registered line begins all the way at the other end of the Ballroom and around the corner a bit.”  Which translated out as two-hundred feet of human and alien protoplasm moving molasses slow.

            It all hints at a barely remembered science fiction short story from ages ago — ages ago being the late 1950s, or maybe spilling over a year or two into the ‘60s.  Whenever I could make it into Deer Park, I’d stop at the little drug store/soda fountain on Main Street for a Coke over crushed ice.  Watching my drink being made from a squirt of syrup and a surge of soda-water seemed for some reason to make it taste much better than the same poured from one of those wasp-waist bottles.  The other attraction was the store’s small magazine rack.  Though I did on occasion buy a copy of “Stag” or “For Men Only” (at that time those blood-and-guts men’s magazines, with their soft-core cover art, were about as close as you could get to porn over-the-counter), for the most part I was drawn to the several science fiction pulps usually displayed on the rack.  It might have been in “The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction” or “Astounding” — I just can’t recall — but I’ve run into the story since in some anthology, and I know it’s considered a classic.
            It seems like the title was “The Trek” — or some variation thereof.  The premise was that the narrator — a human — becomes aware he’s part of an endless line of creature walking through an alien landscape.  Most of his companions seem to represent different species, though all appear to be advanced forms of sentient.  The narrator has no recollection of his personal past, and, being unable to communicate with his companions in anything higher than gestures, he spends the entire story in an internal dialog that attempts to deduce the circumstance he finds himself in.
            Someone will doubtless remember that story.  It probably has no relation to the line at SpoCon, other than suggesting that deducing circumstances is difficult enough even when everyone has a common language.
            Right in front of us was a young man probably late twenties/early thirties fully robed as a Jedi Knight.  About twenty minutes into our stand and shuffle, several young gentlemen — red-shirts — came down the line inspecting weapons.  The official SpoCon policy states that, “all weapons or items that appear to be weapons must be peace-bonded by designated security.”  And the policy further states, “no firearms.”  The red-shirts were determining whether said weapon-like items were in fact props or otherwise non-harmful decorations and after having so determined, said gentlemen were snugging brightly colored zip-ties around the objects.
            Finding that our Jedi Knight’s lightsaber was not a real lightsaber (those tend to be a bit rare), the security personnel peace-bonded the device with a red zip-tie and moved on.
            During the general chat up and down the line, we learned that our Jedi Knight was actually a deputy sheriff from a nearby county.  Seeing what I thought was an opportunity for a little humor, I asked him if he, as usually required of off-duty law-enforcement personnel, was caring a weapon to which he nodded.  And then I mused, “I wonder if you should have had that peace-bonded.”
            It was clear by his reaction that he was not at all happy with the idea.
            Let’s be perfectly clear.  I have no problem with citizens carrying weapons if they do so in compliance with Washington State law.  However, unless things have changed since I last had a concealed weapon permit, there are two strict policies to be observed when a private citizen packs.  First, the weapon must be kept in the carrier’s possession in such a manner that it is always under the carrier’s control which usually translates out as on their person.  And second, the weapon must remain concealed at all times unless there is a legally evident threat that would allow its exposure.  Showing a weapon inadvertently or otherwise without a legally evident reason for doing so can be considered intimidation with a firearm regardless of your state issued permit to carry.  If you choose to show the weapon as a threat, you’ll need to offer credible evidence that such intimidation was necessary.  And as for maintaining physical control over the weapon, that’s the simple extension of a train of logic that says the device is designed to be capable of killing.  It is a weapon and nothing else.  As such, when you transport that device into a public setting you are fully responsible for any damage the device is capable of inflicting.  That places an obligation on you to maintain control over the device at all times meaning not only maintaining physical possession of the device, but of maintaining yourself in a mental state in which you are capable of correctly adjudicating the necessity of deploying the device, and then using the device once deployed with minimal chance of inflicting collateral damage.
            To boil all the edges off; what all this means is that the damage inflicted by the dissipation of the kinetic energy stored in a bullet discharged from a gun you carried into a public place is your responsibility.  If said energy is dissipated inside the body of someone adjudicated to have been a lawful target, all well and good.  But if the weapon is discharged accidentally, or if your bullet misses your lawful target or passes through your lawful target with a potentially damaging amount of kinetic energy intact, you are still responsible for the remaining damage done by the bullet.  And you continue to be responsible for any damage done to property or person until that bullet’s kinetic energy is fully dissipated.  That responsibility is surely financial, and, depending on circumstances, quite possibly criminal.
            To make it even stickier, your financial responsibility likely exists no matter who it is that pulls your gun’s trigger.  And under some circumstances you may be considered criminally responsible even if you are not the one pulling the trigger.
            All told, a concealed weapon permit is a very weighty thing.  I suspect few possessing such have taken that weight fully into account.  But let me also add that I think any responsible citizen who does not have a properly secured firearm somewhere in their home is exercising a personal choice that can also have dire consequences.
            The right to use firearms to protect home, family, and community is only one aspect of America’s 2nd Amendment.  The other is that the founding fathers were building a constitution based on the concept of checks and balances.  As noted in the Declaration of Independence, the final balance was an armed citizenry that could band together to protect their community from foreign or domestic threats and by domestic the founding fathers clearly included their own government.  The result is a somewhat violent society in which abuses by individuals and groups are fairly common but also a society far less violent than many others that regulate the private possession of firearms into non-existence.  And not inconsequentially, in many of those restrictive societies the government itself is the chief perpetrator of the violence against the citizens.
            The founding fathers had seen firsthand the variations on tyranny that seemed to rise as a certainty from any authoritarian form of government.  But aside from seeing, the founding fathers had also researched such in their historical studies.  After all, most of the founding fathers (unlike our current crop of political dildos) were highly educated in the “liberal arts and sciences.”  Most all could quote relevant passages from Niccolo Machiavelli’s works.  And most had drawn a good portion of their political opinions from their studies of European history and what it has to say about the corruptible nature of the human animal.
            Anyone reading the papers of the founding fathers should be driven to conclude that these people were clearly intellectuals — just as the majority of the world’s most successful revolutionaries have been.  And that they didn’t trust government — even the one they were in the process of creating.  The arguments these intellectuals made suggest that a citizenry of armed individuals was not only a means of creating local militias in lieu of the standing army — a professional military being something few of the founding fathers were inclined to trust — but also a means of curbing the tendency of all governments to gravitate into tyrannies, and of all people holding excessive power within those government to eventually evolve into tyrants.
            One of the most humorous elements in all this — assuming you’re an aficionado of dark humor — is that those currently supporting neo-conservative policies in order to protect their gun rights are likely the ones to be most instrumental in causing the loss of those rights.  The ultimate destination of the neo-conservative movement is the creation of a society clearly stratified between the rich and poor, with the rich dominating all political, social, and economic decisions being made.  Though special interest groups such as the gun lobby and various religious groups seem to believe they can force their agendas onto the nation as a whole by siding with the neo-conservatives, once said conservatives have assumed total power, most of the various nut-groups that have swept them to power will become liabilities needing to be dealt with.  (You can reference both the Russian Communist Party and German Nazi Party purges for outlines of exactly how that works.)  After all, in any society clearly stratified between the working class and a royal (or in this case corporate) elite, the elite will be required to use their control of both the police and military to keep the massive number of lower class citizens in their place.  Keeping the citizenry subdued will be much easier if the citizenry is not armed.  The humor of it all will be that it’s going to be under the direct orders of the filthy rich corporate elite — the very people the Tea Party is so intent on putting into power — that the guns will be pried from the cold, dead fingers of their previous owners.  And such will be done for the exact reason the founding fathers feared.  Such will be done to prevent regime change in a nation taken over by tyrants.  Now that’s going to be funny — though only from the distance of historical perspective I suspect.
            And what makes it even more humorous is that the party allegedly for the working people — the Democratic Party — the group supposedly standing in defense of the huddled masses yearning to breathe free — will have aided in the eventual corporate takeover of America’s republican form of government by failing to advocate for the sanctity of the second amendment — the founding fathers most forceful remedy to any possibility of domestic tyranny.
            While I do think military style weapons — including any fully automatic firearms — should be banned, I also think the right to possess handguns and rifles should be extended by federal mandate into any subservient political district that now bans such.  Furthermore, I believe every state in the union should be required to issue concealed weapon permits under a uniform federal code.  Though there should be reasonable restrictions to ownership in certain cases — meaning proven criminals and proven crazy people shouldn’t be allowed guns (and the codes should allow for some basic testing when an applicant’s mental health is in question) — in all other cases “the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
            Taking the concept of an armed citizenry into the realm of speculative fiction, Robert A. Heinlein explored one possible variation on an openly armed society in a novel titled Beyond This Horizon.  Serialized in 1942’s Astounding Science Fiction magazine, then published under hardcover in 1948, Heinlein developed a plot extrapolating on the hypothesis that “an armed society is a polite society,” though the stratification between those who elect to carry weapons and the essentially second-class status of those that chose not to carry suggests that only the armed are entitled to the above noted politeness.
            Novelized in 1951, A. E. van Vogt’s The Weapon Shops of Isher took a somewhat different tack when exploring the axiom that “the right to buy weapons is the right to be free.”  Of course in Isher’s case the technologically augmented and quite literally “smart” weapons could only be used in self-defense meaning they would not work if the weapon’s internal artificial intelligent deemed the circumstance of intended use other than justified.  Due to this technology, use of Isher weapons in criminal enterprises, or for starting a revolution, was close to impossible.  But from the story’s point of view, the actual reason for Isher’s weapons wasn’t personal protection; rather it was the ability of such personal weapons to counterbalance the overwhelming force of what was essentially a police state.
            The political union Robert A. Heinlein envisioned in Beyond This Horizon seems an odd conglomerate of Darwinian capitalism with socialistic underpinnings.  In Heinlein’s utopia the chronic underemployment brought about by robotic manufacturing and such is offset by an economy in which everyone is entitled to a lifelong stipend from what was likely the state’s massive portfolio of commonly held stocks – perhaps an unintended outcome of privatizing Social Security.  Those who want to work — that being an option — are free to enjoy whatever extra enhancements their earned income can provide. 
            As for the possibility of creating a society in which weapons are openly carried and used as Heinlein envisioned, I doubt current neo-conservatives would care much for that since a poor man or woman with a steady hand and quick reflexes would theoretically be entitled to more respect than a rich man who declined to carry a personal weapon.  My expectation is that our current crop of holy-corporate-warriors would feel that such an obvious lack of respect for the world’s job-creators (the new-right’s code word for obscenely rich) should to be prohibited.  So, in reality, any future will need to take into account the equally valid conservative axiom that “you’re entitled to as much respect as you can pay for with the money you’ve looted from the working-class” – which, despite the “job creators” bullshit, seems to be the source of most of the new elite’s wealth.
            All the above is just theoretical since the rich will do as the rich have always done.  They will hire professional thugs and assassins to provide for their defense — and (when deemed prudently profitable) offence.
            As for our young Jedi; off-duty police officers are generally required to carry a weapon since they don’t stop being cops simply because they’re off the clock.  And though given a degree of latitude due to their special status, when carrying a weapon they’re under the same general rules of engagement as an armed civilian.  The one caveat is that if the weapon comes out, the officer must identify himself as an officer of the law.  At that point he’s on duty in every sense of the word, and his decisions will be financially backed by the state.
            So, my assumption was that under his flowing robes our young Jedi Knight would be packing a real death-dealing device.
            Though SpoCon has a “no firearms” policy, and though that policy would likely apply to concealed weapon carriers of the civilian persuasion, it would not apply to off-duty law enforcement personnel.  Hospitals and schools have had “no weapons” policies for years, and to my knowledge such has never been construed as applying to off-duty law enforcement.
            As for civilian’s with concealed weapon permits, I suspect they cross into “no weapons” zones such as hospitals and schools all the time.  If the weapon is inadvertently exposed, it immediately becomes a police matter.  If the weapon is proper concealed and assuming there are no detectors in service who’s to know?
            All this said, I found something humorous in the concept of Obi Wan Kenobi with something like a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson under his tunic a less elegant weapon for a less civilized age.”  But as noted, our young Jedi Knight apparently did not find it so.
            “If they tried to peace-bond my weapon, I’d have them cuffed and under arrest in a matter of seconds,” he snapped.
            If SpoCon security had reason to believe our young Jedi had a real weapon and I saw no reason to inform them of his indication to me that he did more than likely they would have wisely declined to test the legendary curse of the red shirt and simply asked the city to send a couple of police officers by to check things out.  Regardless, I highly doubt peace-bonding a real weapon would be something SpoCon security would be interested in doing since peace-bonding is intended to insure that the artifact being so tagged isn’t in fact a real weapon. 
            I sometimes forget how young the older young people around me still are.  Being really old and inclined toward relating long-winded recollections to illustrate little bits of collected wisdom I decided to use an artifact from my vast backlog of parables to suggest that there are limits to the amount of individual discretion members of law enforcement actually have regarding the off-duty carrying of weapons.
            The delight older people seem to have in using such parables is likely the reason most young people consider everyone my age feeble minded.  On the other hand, when the next significant event in your life is likely to be death, you tend to have little patience for youth’s lack of patience.  Anyway this is the story I told our young Jedi.
            Many years ago our hospital had a young State Patrol officer in as a patient,  The morning after his surgery, one of the nurses came running into the nurses’ station babbling about one of her patients having a gun tucked under his pillow.  Our head nurse, ex-army all the way, immediately perked up.
            A staff member chimed in with “He’s a cop, you know.  He’s allowed to keep his service revolver with him at all times.”
            Our head nurse growled “Not in my hospital, he isn’t” as she charged off down the hall!
            Once in the room she stated, “I’m told you have your service revolver under your pillow.  You will immediately call your supervisor and have him come in and remove that weapon from my hospital.”
            The Patrolman returned, “I’m required by law to have my gun with me at all times.”  His voice of authority suggested absoluteness in his right to do so.
            Our head nurse was having none of it.  “You call your supervisor right now, or I will!”
            And any well-practiced voice of authority aside, let me state for the record that experience has taught there is nothing quite as emasculating as going eye to eye with a pissed ex-army nurse.  That’s when you learn the difference between real authority and just the voice.
            When the trooper’s Captain came up to retrieve the weapon, he apologized to our head nurse.  “He’s just a rooky.  He’s taking things a little too literally.  I’ll get him straightened out.”
            As for the conclusion of my little story, I’m not sure which of those three terms infuriated our young Jedi even more.  Was it “rooky”? Was it “too literally”?  Or was it “straightened out”?  To my thinking it was likely all of them.  But what came out of our young Jedi in response to my parable was clearly a clutch of emotion-laden words from the dark side.
            “In case you haven’t noticed, cops are under attack!  Being in a hospital disarmed would create a perfect opportunity for those people to attack!  And I can guarantee that if I were attacked and had no way to defend myself, I’d sue the hospital, nurses, and anyone else involved with taking my weapon away!”
            A face splotched with pink and tallowed patches.  Lips drawn tight.  Nostrils flared.  Every sign of a Jedi about to have one of those Anakin-Skywalker-in-the-Tusken-Raiders’-camp moments.
            Just then the disembodied spirit of Yoda murmur softly in my ear, “Will gain you only trouble, antagonizing this young Jedi further.”
            Classic clinical interdiction would suggest that the best way to deal with a likely psychological meltdown is to avoid the threat gesture of direct eye contact, to assume body postures that suggest vulnerability though not necessarily retreat, and to kick the issue upstairs to a higher authority who assumedly would be better able to address the issue at hand in the hope that the act of such upstairs-kicking might redirect the immediate threat of violence toward someone not currently present.  (When I was still working, my favorite redirect was the hospital’s CEO.  For some reason it gave me great pleasure to visualize the wild eyed nut-ball who seconds before had wanted to tear my eyes out charging naked through the administrative offices while screeching in a slobbering rage, “I want the son-of-a-bitch that runs this place!”  Having a few benign fantasies of that type to fall back on seemed to take some of the pressure off those particularly troubling days.)
            “This is obviously something you should talk over with your commander,” I say, indicating my intention of withdrawing from further conversation.
            But withdrawal aside, here’s what I really think.  Any police officer must be cognitive of and responsive to the several strictures modifying the rights of any citizen to carry a deadly weapon and in the final analysis a police officer is still just a citizen.  Said citizen must be able to recognize those situations in which they are incapable of maintaining sufficient physical control over their firearm to insure their own safety as well as that of others, and they must be cognitive of those situations, conditions, and circumstances under which their own reduced or impaired mental function has lessened their ability to safely use any firearm still under their control.  Attempting to maintain a weapon on your person when admitted to a hospital violates both those strictures on several levels.
            A handgun under your pillow is not a secured weapon.  By that I mean, unless you are able to stay awake, drug free, and therefore fully competent during your entire stay, you cannot guarantee it’s going to remain under your physical control at all times regardless of whether it’s under your pillow or strapped to your otherwise naked ankle.  Staff are constantly entering and leaving a patient’s room especially when that patient has been subdued by any number of potential mechanisms into a state of semi or non-awareness that requires monitoring.  Free access to and from such rooms is a common part of the job we do.  The staff should not need to worry about unauthorized people entering said room and accessing the officer’s firearm when the officer is asleep or in a state of induced unconsciousness or possibly technically awake though functioning under heavy sedation, strong narcotics, or a plethora of other injury, disease, or treatment induced mental handicaps.  Nor should the staff need to worry that a mentally addled policeman/patient might misconstrue a routine check of his urinary catheter output as a terrorist attack and shoot us in error.  Nor do we need a disoriented law enforcement officer, hearing something such as a dementia patient raising a ruckus in the hall, charging into the hall with his bare tentacles flashing from beneath his flapping patient gown and his 9 millimeter Glock blazing.
            Now if there is any validity to our young Jedi’s worry that someone will see his admission into a hospital as a perfect opportunity to attack him when he’s unarmed, then I suggest an armed officer can be posted outside his room.  The medical staff is used to working in the presence of armed officers and in fact have an affinity with police and fire department personnel since we too are required to act in a polite and respectful manner when assaulted will all kinds of mindless bullshit.   And since we seem to have a steady stream of convicted felons as well as injured suspects as patients, a sheriff’s deputy sitting in the hall or inside a room is not all that uncommon.  In fact, having the police there is usually a bit of a comfort one reason being that it tends to reduce the tendency of certain hospital visitors to engage in what they assume to be highly entertaining psychodramas.  Since most such publicly performed dramas are clearly hammed-up reenactments drawn from some recent airing of ER or House, no Emmy awards for best performance are likely.
            All this is to say that, if given a choice, we’d rather small-talk with a uniformed and fully cognitive sheriff’s deputy assigned to guard duty then be confronted by a naked deputy oozing blood and morphine from his trailing IV line while staggering down the hall and using his service revolver to blow holes in his hallucinations.  And also through all those non-hallucinogenic therefore unseen objects behind the various phantom menaces he is so intent on dispatching.
            As for the reality of what I’ve just said, you just need to consider how many police officers have lost their careers and sometimes their freedom by trying to operate their off-duty guns when drunk.  Do you really think the morphine or Demerol used in hospital’s for pain control leaves your judgment any less impaired than alcohol especially from a legal point of view?  If you want to talk about the potentialities for lawsuits arising from ill-considered applications of force, ask the City of Spokane.  They have an impressive résumé of just such.  If any young Jedi is still unconvinced, I suggest they ask someone higher up the chain of command for example, the master who’s ass is likely to go in the sling right alongside his or her padawan when the younger screws up.
            As my final outburst on this subject; I believe no citizen applying to carry a concealed weapon should be required to give a reason for doing so since no one needs to give a reason for exercising what is clearly a constitutional right.  However, I also believe everyone applying for a concealed weapon permit should be required to pass a certification in which they demonstrate proficiency with the specific firearm they intend to carry recertification required if they change their choice of weapon and a clear understanding of all laws pertaining to the carrying and discharge of any firearm in the presence of others.  And lastly, I believe all persons carrying concealed weapons should be required to have liability insurance covering any possible unintended damage to persons or property resultant from the lawful or unlawful discharge of said firearm.  (And it should be noted that insurance companies are likely to require their own background checks and such possibly to include some form of psychological certification before issuing any given individual an insurance policy.)  And to make sure this weapon liability insurance requirement isn’t disregarded in the same manner as our compulsory auto liability insurance laws often are, the law should be that any citizen who is licensed to carry a concealed weapon and fails to carry concurrent insurance at all times will be considered to be engaged in a felony.  That is to say that the issuance of a concealed weapon permit makes insurance mandatory.  Any lawful inquiry will require you show both your weapon permit and your current insurance card.  If your insurance lapses or is cancelled by either you or your insurer prior to the normal expiration date of your weapon permit and you therefore find yourself uninsured, you must promptly surrender your license to carry a concealed weapon or automatically be bench-warranted as a potential felon.
            Harsh perhaps, but absolutely no one should remain uncompensated for damages inflicted by the accidental, reckless, or ill-conceived use of a firearm, or for collateral damages received from the adjudicated as reasonable, legal, and proper use of a firearm just as no one should be financially ruined because the other motorist failed to have insurance.  It’s bad enough that people already have to put up with this uncompensated crap from criminals but to be required to also suffer such at the hands of the law-abiding who have taken it upon themselves to carry into public spaces a type of personal protection that deters attack through its demonstrated capacity to inflict capital damage is absolutely asinine.
            So a pendent to Heinlein’s “an armed society is a polite society” might be, “for an armed society to be polite, a number of rational regulations will be required.”  Otherwise you have a society of law abiding though unqualified citizens trying to protect themselves with handguns, while the entire concept of self-defense by concealed firearm is chronically being burdened by the usual group of puffed-up, blowhard, uncertified though doubtless sociopathic bullies obnoxiously strutting around as if invincible because they’ve augmented the size of their dicks with the excessive caliber of their ego-masturbating, barely concealed weapons.  A. E. van Vogt solved that problem by having the hand-gun do the thinking likely because van Vogt understood that the tip of the dick has such a low IQ it’s fairly oblivious to responsible decision making.
            Any responsible citizen will not only understand the necessity of mitigating as much as possible any collateral damage caused by the use of their firearm, they will also see the wisdom in protecting whatever property they have accumulated during their life by carrying adequate liability insurance.  Requiring insurance will primarily compensate those who find themselves suffering collateral damage from the legally liable actions of those who have no accumulated wealth to lose, and also those who habitually decline to assume any civic responsibility beyond the exercise of their own rights and privileges.
            From that point on in our continuing shuffle toward SpoCon’s pre-registration table, we allowed our young Jedi to play with his peace-bonded lightsaber in peace.
            It took about fifty minutes all told to process through.  We brought a print-out of our pre-registration confirmation email as evidence just in case there was some problem.  Since our pass numbers were on the confirmation, it was a simple task to match us to our passes and send us on our way.
… to be continued …

Jump to Part #1 of SpoCon 2011.
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Jump to Part #4 of SpoCon 2011.

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