By Deb Avery
It was an ordinary day, a typical medical call, and a normal response from our local fire department.
But somewhere along the way there was a break down in communications between one person and a group of others that turned a spark into a full blown fire.
One of our group arrived on scene with his temper flaring. After returning to the station, the situation escalated into a shouting match between two young men who had been at odds with each other for quiet awhile.
The assistant chief steps in to mediate and mitigate, hoping to diffuse a tense situation. This isn’t a welcomed or usual occurrence, but something that can happen in the tense situations these firefighters sometimes face. This is especially true when there is that one—or more—member(s) who have an attitude and/or an ego problem.
The assistant chief separates the two, sending one to the opposite corner of the building while trying to calm the temper of the other.
Then, in a matter of two seconds, three things happen.
The 19 year old, having heard his name mentioned, begins walking toward the mediator and the other person. The other stated later that he felt threatened, and as the young rookie walked toward him, the other reaches back toward the handgun that he constantly carries on his hip.
In those couple of seconds a young man’s life was on the line. No, actually two lives stood in the balance that day. For if things had continued, life, as he knew it, would have been over for the hot tempered young man contemplating resolving an everyday, ordinary issue with the use of a firearm.
After being told by the mediator to “stop,” the person wearing the gun left the premises mumbling and still hot over the whole episode. But, at least disaster had been averted.
It could have very easily gone the other way.
We like to think that things like this only happen to other people; people in the cities and high crime areas. But this was the small, rural fire department where I volunteer in administrative positions. The two involved in this heated disagreement are young men I have watched grow up over the years. The mediator—who is also the assistant chief—is my son.
We (the department) were suddenly plunged headfirst into the middle of a very controversial issue: The open carry laws of our state.
In a lot of states, mine included, open carry—the right to carry a gun openly in public and on any public property—is the law. You can ask someone carrying to leave, and if they do not, you can then call law enforcement. However, if you are in a rural area such as mine, it can be several minutes before they arrive.
As we found out, a lot can happen in a few seconds.
It is not an uncommon sight in some locations to see people walking around town, going into stores (those who support open carry), wearing holsters with guns, and even carrying long guns much like gunslingers in an old western movie. How are we, the average citizen, or for that matter, law enforcement officers, supposed to know the good guys from the bad? Why must those of us who are uncomfortable being surrounded by all these people blatantly carrying guns simply supposed to accept and deal with it? Where are our rights as law abiding citizens?
I know we live in a violent world. I know there are people out there who will hurt and/or kill the innocent without a moments thought. But I do not believe everyone walking around with a weapon strapped at their side is the answer.
I believe openly—flauntingly—carrying a weapon pulls violence to the person wearing it, affecting all those around them. I also think that in some instances, in the heat of the moment, anyone can make a huge mistake when a resolution may seem so open and available to them.
Most proponents of open carry will not listen to reason. If you try and reason with them you will have the 2nd amendment recited to you as if you have no clue as to what it, or the rest of The Constitution, is all about. You will be called a fascist, a communist, and several other choice words, depending on the proponents vocabulary and intensity.
But what you will learn quickly is the fact that they truly believe it is their God given right. Period. No arguments. They are right and you, my friend, are wrong. There is usually no common ground to even start a dialogue. You are an enemy to them, their rights, their freedoms and the American way.
I know this is a generalization. But I have found it to be very accurate in those who are fanatical about never leaving home without their gun strapped on.
I feel there are many reasons why people become fanatical with openly carrying weapons. It can be as simple as ego, problems with self-image and the need for respect, or as complicated as behavioral issues, controlling personality, or even mental illness.
Although I am a non-violent person, I believe that there can be situations where having a concealed weapon, out of sight, could save innocent lives. For instance, I do not expect a hardened, violent person intending my family or myself harm, to listen to reason in a life and death situation. Yes, by all means try, in every way you can, to keep that type of situation from escalating to the point of violence.
But remember this one thing; they (the violent person with intent to harm) have not attended your services, read your books, nor believe in your philosophies.
Your life, or the life of a loved one, may be in jeopardy because of the ideology, lack of empathy or uncontrolled anger of someone else. Could any of us stand by and let that person take the life of someone we loved, (ourselves included) without trying to stop them in whatever way we could? We might think one thing here now, safe—and then think quiet differently when faced with this situation.
Although I do not carry a concealed firearm, I do respect the rights of those who wish to do so under the conceal carry laws. It is very discreet and it causes no discomfort to others. I do wish that it was required to have training in both technical and psychological issues, before being allowed a concealed carry permit.
Openly, brazenly carrying a weapon on our person in plain view of all, that, is another thing. I do not believe we should blatantly encourage an environment of aggressive behavior that is implied with open carrying.
We have much work to do in our society. Sometimes it can seem daunting and almost unrealistic to believe that the peaceful way will work in our violent and aggressive world. But I will still work toward that goal in my daily life.
In our situation—we did the best we could. A special meeting was called of the Board of Directors. We voted to prohibit guns at the fire department. This is a touchy issue as these guys (ladies included) are sent out in all types of situations and are sometimes met with violence.
A simple medical can turn into a serious incident when alcohol, drugs or domestic violence is the at the root of the problem. We have a few who carry a concealed permit. Unfortunately for them, at this time, they must abide by these rules just as those who abused their privilege with open carry.
Where do we draw the line between self-defense and being offensive, as in open carry? We decided that for now, we will prohibit all guns from our fire department. And although they understand, some are not happy with this decision. It did take care of a problem. But we are now short two firefighters, one highly trained.
As I write this there is a bill in the Senate waiting to be voted into law that will give all firefighters, EMS and first responders the right to conceal carry on all calls.
Our vote may be mute in a few months.
We did what we felt was best for all involved. We reached what we hope is the best solution for the department as a whole. That has to be enough—for now.
I think how much better the world would be if guns, knives and weapons of mass destruction were not a part of our life. Then I remember the burning at the stake, the drownings and the many other atrocities before modern weapons, and I realize that until the problem that resides at the center of violence is solved, there will always those who take others lives, with or without, weapons.
Maybe one day, if we begin early teaching the value of life, human and non-human, reaching out into all our communities to teach the sacredness of all beings and our planet, maybe things will change. Maybe if we meet violence with understanding and an enlightened attitude, maybe, just maybe, a more peaceful world will evolve.
I like to believe that. I want to believe in the peaceful way. And in some situations I think it is possible. But I also see an undercurrent of violence since the very beginning of our solar system. It was a violent act that brought about the very existence of our planet.
The survival of one species in the animal kingdom is often times dependent on the violent death of another.
Such is life, on many different levels. The very earth we live on often goes through violent periods of shifting plates, storms, and explosions. Thousands die every day on this planet from some kind of violence in the their lives, their bodies, or from consequences of nature.
This undercurrent runs deep in the very fabric of our being.
Can we ever have a society without violence?
There are days, many of them for the past couple of weeks, when I think not. I think that in some cases it is inevitable. However, I will never give up on practicing the peaceful way.
I will always choose the mindful way—the way of peace. Yet I will mentally and spiritually prepare for the times when violence is unavoidable.
I share the following mantra which has helped me through some very difficult times in my life:
“May I deal with this moment with as much grace, dignity and courage as I possibly can.”
Editor: Dana Gornall