Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Reflections in blue steel: The DC gun ban and the LA riots

(Kavanna reporting) The U.S. Supreme Court is currently pondering the fate of Washington D.C.'s gun ban in District of Columbia v. Heller. The Court heard oral argument on March 18, 2008, and is expected to decide the case by the end of June.

The case addresses the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
This post is not meant as an in-depth analysis of the issues raised by this run-on sentence (e.g., individual vs. collective rights), or of the District's interpretation of it. That said, I understand the need for strict control over gun access, but those who call for a complete ban go too far. For instance, they usually assume the following events could never happen in America:

- A civil insurrection, in which
- Violent rioters approach residential neighborhoods, and
- Police fail to respond to calls for help as 911 switchboards are jammed

Yet that is exactly what happed during the LA riots.

During the mayhem sparked by the Rodney King verdict, I lived just below the Southern border of Beverly Hills in the Pico-Robertson area. The day the riots started, my employer instructed us to go home. I drove to the nearby Ralph's supermarket near Brentwood to pick up supplies in case I had to hunker down in my apartment. By the time I got to Ralph's, the water was gone from the shelves. An eerie silence filled the air, as the upper middle-class Westside crowd queued in the longest supermarket lines I've ever seen. Nobody said a word.

Driving home took an hour and a half, compared to the usual 20 minutes. Even so, traffic was orderly, with no gridlocking at intersections. Imagine Londoners serving tea in Tube tunnels during the Blitz.

I would fall asleep at night fully dressed in my living room, watching news reports of the fires and violence moving Westward from its origins in South Central LA. The next day, from the roof of my apartment building I viewed several huge plumes of charcoal gray smoke rising from different angles to the East. I saw a tiny speck of a helicopter dwarfed by one black cloud. I could smell burning chemicals (from furniture and other inventory). I later learned that a shopping center went up in flames at the corner of Pico and LaCienega - just a few minute walk away. No more haircuts there for me.

A friend saw a pedestrian shot in the leg and another beaten with a baseball bat near the Jewish Federation headquarters in the mid-Wilshire district. During the riots, the police were overwhelmed. 911 didn't work. Civil order was collapsing.

Before I left work that first day of the riots, my colleague Paul offered to lend me a 9mm Taurus pistol. During a few practice trigger pulls (with the chamber empty), the slide jerked back, almost catching my thumb-forefinger webbing. I had not been trained with semi-automatics. I declined Paul's offer. However, after the riots, I bought a Smith & Wesson .357 magnum revolver. I was not going to be caught short again.

Based on my experience, I now see gun ownership not only as a right, but practically a responsibility, especially for those in urban areas with families to protect.

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