The Chicago Tribune Covers
The Arizona Self-Defense Banquet:
"Aiming to change image"
"Advocates for concealed weapons laws have some points to make,
the Tribune's Howard Witt notes of dueling U.S. views"
By Howard Witt,
Tribune Southwest Bureau Chief,
recently on assignment in Phoenix
November 13, 2004
PHOENIX -- Depending on your point of view, the Shrine Auditorium in downtown
Phoenix was either the safest or most dangerous place in the nation one
Saturday night this fall.
Inside the main banquet hall, some 400 assorted Arizonans, nearly all
of them with guns strapped to their hips, stashed in their waistbands
or stuffed in their purses, were gathered to celebrate the 10th anniversary
of the state's concealed carry law, which allows citizens to pack heat
wherever the sun doesn't shine.
All the major pro-gun groups were represented, of course, including the
National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation. So were
some quirkier offshoots, such as the Second Amendment Sisters ("If
you are a woman who owns a gun, you have an equalizer") and Jews
for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership ("No nonsense. No compromise.
No genocide."). There was a man dressed as Wyatt Earp--the infamous
Gunfight at the OK Corral occurred in Tombstone--and another impersonating
But what really distinguished the crowd was how devoutly law-abiding it
was--and exceedingly polite too. As banquet organizer Alan Korwin jested
in a news release after the dinner: "Food Service Very Slow But Waiters
All Still Alive."
That was, in fact, the message the gathering last month was intended to
drive home: Ordinary gun owners don't fit the wild-eyed caricatures often
drawn by anti-gun groups. And they ought to be trusted to carry their
weapons, openly or concealed, wherever they wish.
"When the concealed carry law first started, the news was filled
with fear of blood in the streets and Wild West shootouts at traffic lights,
and all that turned out to be virtually delusional," said Korwin,
whose company publishes manuals for gun owners.
Concealed weapons permits are one of the lightning-rod issues in the ceaseless
national debate over gun control, provoking divisive passions between
rural and urban America. Here in the West, guns are about as common as
bow ties are in Washington, D.C. But just as no self-respecting Arizonan
would be caught dead wearing a bow tie, many residents of big cities such
as Washington fear being caught dead by people carrying concealed weapons.
Jeanne Carey, 64, understands the conflict. She was a lifelong Chicago
resident--and an ardent foe of guns--until she moved to Phoenix two years
"This is my home now, and you gotta get with the program," she
said. "I went out and bought a Glock. Everybody has one. It's a fashion
Only five states, Illinois among them, prohibit private citizens from
carrying concealed weapons. In 11 others, police may deny permits based
on their discretion. The other 34 states, like Arizona, allow any law-abiding
citizen to obtain permission to carry a concealed weapon, although usually
a background check and a gun-safety course are required. Pro-gun activists
would like to see concealed weapons allowed without restriction nationwide.
Proponents contend that concealed weapons make communities safer by introducing
the element of doubt: Criminals never know whether a potential victim
might have a pistol up his sleeve. The laws also empower private citizens
to protect themselves and others from harm. And the required training
impresses upon gun owners just how carefully they must decide whether
to draw their weapons.
Pro-gun Web sites are filled with stories of gun owners around the country
using their concealed weapons to ward off criminals, and the banquet honored
several with Human Right of Self-Defense Awards. One of the recipients
was 72-year-old Zelda Hunt of Tucson who stopped a burglar from breaking
into her home with the aid of her .22 revolver.
But gun-control advocates scoff at such anecdotes, and counter with their
Gerry Anderson, executive director of Arizonans for Gun Safety, noted
the case of a mentally ill Phoenix man whose family had begged state authorities
to hospitalize him, to no avail. Last summer the man purchased a gun and
obtained a concealed weapons permit; in August he shot three Phoenix police
officers, killing two, before he committed suicide.
"It's very hard to get hard evidence about this, but most studies
show that availability of a firearm can turn a fistfight into a gunfight,"
The truth is hard to discern. Most law-enforcement agencies do not rigorously
collect data that might reveal whether concealed weapons holders are more
or less likely to be involved in crimes--or in stopping them.
But Arizona authorities report that as of June 2003, out of 67,689 concealed
weapons permits issued, only about 1,400, or less than 2 percent, had
been suspended or revoked.
Much of the talk at the banquet, however, centered on other concerns,
such as the awkwardness of ordering business suits that can accommodate
a holster in the waistband.
"If you go to Men's Wearhouse, they want to know why you want those
2 extra inches," explained Todd Rathner, an Arizona member of the
NRA's national board of directors.
Only 20 errors, demeaning uses of language and instances of bias appear
in this story, actually quite good considering the source.
Every reference to carrying a firearm is expressed in condescending
or derogatory terms, e.g., "stashed," "packing heat"
and "stuffed in their purses," instead of "was armed,"
"carried sidearms" or similar.
The point about 2% of permits revoked fails to note that revocation
is how the system deletes permits from people who have died, moved or
relinquished their permit for any legitimate reason, and that revocations
for cause are exceedingly rare.
Writer Howard Witt remarked to me that he was quite surprised at how
many people emphasized the seriousness of carry, and the extremely limited
circumstances when a gun could be brought to bear. This was in striking
contrast to the familiar, prevalent and false anti-rights notion that
gun owners are ready and willing to shoot anyone for any reason.
Of the 400 doctors, lawyers, business owners, certified trainers, professionals,
activists, legislators, permittees and other decent people at the banquet
whom Witt could have cited, the only regular attendee quoted is a woman,
recently arrived in Arizona, who says, "you gotta get with the
program," and that guns are, "a fashion statement."
[Local activist Dave Kopp noted to me later by email: "Out of a
nearly 45 minute chat, where Jeanne made all sorts of intelligent, interesting
statements about the value of carrying a and gun for women, the usefulness
of self-defense in a violent society, the importance of training, her
conversion from an anti-gun Chicago-born public school principal to
gun-owning and carrying AZ resident, CCW holder and NRA member, etc.,
etc., ad infinitum, the only quotes that good ol' Harold chose to pull
from his several pages of notes are the ones you cite above, both of
which were said tongue in cheek. Funny how that works eh?
"Since I was sitting next to Jeanne during the majority of her
conversation with Harold, and since I have a bit more experience with
media whores than she does, she turned to me after he left and asked
me how she did. I told her that she did just fine, but that she should
expect two things if the story ever saw the light of day. One, that
the only quote she would likely see would be the one about "a fashion
statement," and two, that he would probably get it wrong. Not surprisingly,
I was correct on both counts. When the article came out, I sent her
a copy with the words "I told you so!" writ large at the top.
It will likely be a cold day in hell before she'll fall into that trap
again. Once bitten ... "]
An unattributable bogus factoid by one of the state's most ardent anti-rights
activists is reprinted without critical review or balance ("It's
very hard to get hard evidence about this, but most studies show that
availability of a firearm can turn a fistfight into a gunfight"),
which on its surface is practically silly. I personally have never heard
of any study that examines the "hard to get hard evidence"
issue about fistfights that concerns her.
A lengthy interview with Todd Rathner, an NRA Board Member in attendance,
yielded a quote about getting pants altered at Men's Wearhouse to accomodate
a holster. Although perhaps accurate, it is hard to imagine that this
was the most salient remark available from this very intelligent and
knowledgable fellow, on the 10th anniversary of the successful CCW law.
The man "impersonating Geroge Washington" was actually an
actor portraying Patrick Henry.
Overall, however, the article takes a remarkable posture -- remarkable
for the Chicago Tribune at least, which, like most major media,
typically focuses almost exclusively on criminal misuse of guns. Banquet
organizers were pleasantly surprised that the story ran at all (National
Public Radio did a report but refused to air it once the leadership
learned of the story's positive slant; a high-ranking staffer commented,
We only do hit pieces on guns). Witt's piece comendably suggests that:
guns have legitimate purpose
decent people possess them
possession of a firearm does not turn an individual into a homicidal
bad waiter service does not cost lives
gun owners are generally scrupulously law abiding
blood-in-the-streets scare tactics when the CCW program began
gun possession likely has a deterrent effect on criminals
citizens can protect themselves with firearms
firearms training has positive results
It was a pleasure and an honor to be involved in the creation of this