CCW article in Raleigh New & Observer


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Olrocker
April 11, 2006, 08:06 AM
Interesting...

Our hometown paper (derisively known as the "Nuisance & Disturber") is primarily a liberal rag. Reading between the lines on this one gives me pause, but it's more even-handed than I would have expected.

http://www.newsobserver.com/695/story/426887.html


Published: Apr 09, 2006 12:30 AM

Permitted to conceal arms

Jim Nesbitt, Staff Writer

Every day, Bill Kavanaugh carries a stubby, stainless-steel .45-caliber semiautomatic -- at the grocery store or mall, in a booze-free restaurant, on a short stroll around the block, in the car for a quick jaunt or a cross-country journey. Tucked in a well-worn, zip-up leather daybook, this gun goes where Kavanaugh does -- everywhere except the places prohibited by law, a list that includes schools, churches, courthouses, post offices and anywhere alcohol is served.

"I believe I have a responsibility to make sure my family is safe, that I'm safe, that my neighbors are safe," says Kavanaugh, 52, a telecommunications engineer. "It's a personal decision I've made to refuse to be a victim."

Kavanaugh is a street-legal pistolero, one of almost 76,000 North Carolinians who hold a permit that allows them to carry a concealed handgun under a state law enacted in 1995. Far from being a teenage gangbanger or predator in neighborhoods where weapons are illegal and crime is rampant, he fits the demographic of a typical Tar Heel permit holder -- a white, middle-age man.

Short, bald and bespectacled, Kavanaugh keeps his pistol within easy reach for that moment he hopes never happens.

Until that day, he and his wife, Debbie, who also shoots but doesn't have a concealed-carry permit, live what could be called a "tactical" lifestyle from their modest, brick-trimmed ranch home in southern Durham County.

They've worked out how they'd fight a home invasion. They keep their car doors locked and are careful about where they park at the mall or grocery store. One never goes to a drive-up ATM without the other as a backup, sitting in the car, gun at the ready.

Like an Old West gunfighter, Kavanaugh tries never to sit in a public place with his back to the door -- unless he's covered by another gun-toting friend.

People who hate guns or aren't familiar with them may find his stance distasteful or paranoid, particularly in the face of North Carolina's falling crime rate.

To them, all guns are bad. They see America's firearms fetish -- rooted in frontier myth and a latent Southern celebration of violence -- as a fearsome cultural telltale, a Neanderthal instinct they wish would just become extinct.

To them, people like Bill Kavanaugh are wild-eyed pistol wavers, paranoids who are cocked and locked to spray lead at the barest of provocations.

But if you listen to Kavanaugh explain why he carries a gun -- and does so legally -- you hear a a marked willingness to shoulder this deadly weight responsibly. He isn't content just to punch holes in paper targets at the gun range; he has taken combat pistol courses, learning how to move and look for cover during a gun fight.

You also hear a tightly knit rationale, the product of a deliberate progression. The main threads in this weave are a strong credo of personal responsibility bolstered by religious conviction and a conservative political stand.

"The good Lord requires you to defend your life," said Kavanaugh. "He gave you the power and wherewithal to take care of that life and expects you to do so."

Bill Kavanaugh also believes strongly that legally armed citizens can foil criminals. And a dollop of common sense tells him a little guy in a dangerous world needs a high-powered equalizer.

Born of experience

This last thread is powerful, laced with fear-laden memories of working late at night in the deserted office towers of New Orleans' central business district, at the height of the crack epidemic.

In a recurring, acid-etched image, he also sees the would-be carjacker who jammed a gun barrel against his wife's rib cage at a Union 76 truck stop near Meridian, Miss.

That after-midnight moment is still vivid almost 30 years after it took place during a bathroom break as the couple, their infant son and a woman friend drove from Texas back to Wilmington, the Kavanaughs' hometown.

Kavanaugh can still see the barrel of that gun as it arced from Debbie's midsection to his face and back again. He can see the calm, road-weary and clueless faces of diners in the truck stop's brightly lit cafe just a few yards from the front bumper of his car. And he can still taste the helpless bile he swallowed that night, when all he could do was reach for his wallet and pray the man would take it and run.

"I was extremely upset I could do nothing to defend my wife, my son and my wife's friend," he said. "I was not going to let myself be in that position ever again."

That Mississippi night caused Kavanaugh, an Air Force veteran, to reach for a gun.

His first pistol? A clone of that quintessentially American gun, the Colt 1911 Government Model, the .45 caliber semiautomatic designed by the legendary John Browning and carried by American soldiers and sailors through two world wars, through Korea and Vietnam.

He rarely carries anything else.

"For whatever reason, a 1911 fit my hand when I picked it up," he said. "It's like I carried one in a past life."

Where the permits are

Guns are as American as Wyatt Earp and Al Capone.

And ever since a Republican majority swept into Congress in 1994 and started taking over state legislatures, more and more states have passed concealed-carry permit laws.

North Carolina is one of 38 states with relaxed concealed-carry laws or no permit requirements for someone who wants to tote a pistol. Most of these states, including North Carolina, have "shall-issue" laws that require a sheriff or other authority to grant a permit provided the applicant doesn't have a criminal record or other disqualifying mark, pays a fee and -- if required -- submits to a criminal background check and takes a training course.

State records show there are 75,818 valid concealed-carry permits in North Carolina.

Could be the petite woman waiting to get her nails done at the local salon has a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson .38 Special five-shot revolver tucked into her fanny pack.

Maybe the well-tailored lawyer striding through the marbled lobby of a Raleigh office tower has a .40 caliber Glock semiautomatic nestled in his briefcase.

And could be the long-haul trucker sipping coffee at a Wilco truck stop has a Beretta 9mm semiautomatic -- the civilian version of the pistol American troops carry in Iraq and Afghanistan -- riding beneath his Carhartt canvas coat.

Chances are more than one in 100 they do.

And then there's Kavanaugh, sitting in his car, calmly watching Debbie step up to an ATM, his daybook open and his Para-Ordnance .45 within easy reach.

"I don't want to freak anybody out. I don't want people paranoid when I walk by," he said. "But I'm not going to be a victim again if I can help it."

Like abortion, prayer in schools and the death penalty, guns have defined one of the primary battle lines in America's cultural and political wars.

Back when the concealed-carry law was a subject of debate in the North Carolina legislature, the gunsmoke from both sides of this contentious divide got mighty thick.

Opponents sounded dire warnings of Dodge City-style shootouts. Proponents argued legally armed citizens would reduce North Carolina's crime rate and allow people to protect themselves and their families until cops could arrive.

More than 10 years later, neither the fear of blood in the streets nor the predicted crime-rate reduction have become reality, police officers and prosecutors say.

"They both were wrong," said Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong. "It's been a non-factor as far as I can see."

Triangle law enforcement officials running programs to reduce gun violence say they don't worry about the pistol-centered life of Kavanaugh or North Carolina's relatively thin cadre of concealed-carry permit holders.

Instead, their focus is riveted on the primary cause of this chronic and oft-times deadly problem -- criminals packing illegal firearms.

In the eyes of Johnston County Sheriff Steve Bizzell, there are two distinct gun universes -- one features the pistol-packing outlaw he tries to arrest; the other is a smaller world of concealed-carry permit holders.

In reality, there's a third gun universe, a gray world peopled by firearms owners who steer clear of serious illegal activity, but don't bother with a carry permit for the handgun they routinely carry in car or pickup.

Bizzell keeps his focus on the blatantly lawless and the patently law-abiding.

"The individuals who apply for a permit are the good citizens of our county who get up and go to work every day, go to church, are family people," Bizzell said.

This accepting attitude is based on the lawman's belief that few permit holders commit a criminal act -- either by reckless use of a handgun or otherwise.

However, the state doesn't compile a list of criminal violations by permit holders, nor is there a breakdown on the reasons for denials and revocations. Instead, the state justice department just tallies permit applications, approvals, denials and revocations -- numbers that originate with the county sheriffs responsible for issuing the permits.

Why they carry

Most Triangle area sheriffs and prosecutors say they haven't had a violent crime committed by a concealed-carry permit holder in their jurisdictions.

Chatham County Sheriff Richard Webster says permit holders haven't shot up the streets or stopped crime.

"I think it's a gray line right down the middle that hasn't veered one way or the other," he said.

On the surface, there isn't a single, lock-step reason for North Carolinians who decide to get a concealed-carry permit.

Some are small-business owners who regularly carry a lot of cash. Others are lifelong shooters who see the permit as a convenience that keeps them from unintentionally violating the law when carrying a pistol, said Ken Dodd, a former Wake County Sheriff's Department captain from Garner who teaches a state-approved handgun course.

But deep down, Dodd says, most students are motivated by a fear about their vulnerability to criminal violence. Fear makes them reach for a gun, a reflex tempered by the desire to do so within the lines of the law.

When Stephanie Bennett was found murdered in her Lake Lynn apartment in May 2002, Dodd said, he saw a sudden spike in the number of students -- young, single women in particular.

"When it hits close to home, a specific crime, you'll see more people taking the class," said Dodd, whose students include judges, prosecutors and plumbers.

Polite side effect

For Kavanaugh's friends, Cindi and Gregg Swensen, the 9/11 terrorist attacks shattered their sense of safety and security.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in New Jersey, Gregg Swensen felt a bloodline jolt from the fall of the Twin Towers. Gregg's father, Sonny, was an ironworker who helped build the World Trade Center; Swensen is a former ironworker who helped erect some of the office buildings that surround the now-sacred turf known as Ground Zero.

He now sees a high-risk world where terrorists, gangbangers and criminals are on the prowl and the cops always arrive after a violent deal has already gone down.

"The criminals have gotten so brazen -- home invasions where people are sitting at home, watching TV when the door busts open and criminals rob and rape and kill," said Swensen, 40. "You know what? There is an element in this world whose intent is to kill as many of us as possible -- Americans, Westerners."

The Swensens already had a shotgun in their house for self-defense. When they decided they needed a pistol, Gregg Swensen looked to his co-worker, Bill Kavanaugh, for advice.

"I never thought in my whole life I'd own a gun," said Cindi Swensen, 52, a petite retired administrative assistant who was born and raised in New Jersey. "It never entered my realm of consciousness. I wasn't afraid of them; they just weren't relevant to me."

She and her husband both got concealed-carry permits two years ago. She carries a .38-caliber revolver in a fanny pack; he carries a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol.

"Let me tell you about carrying a gun -- it makes you more polite," said Cindi Swensen, who describes herself as feisty and confrontational. "You don't want to do something stupid, and provoking a confrontation while carrying would be stupid. The idea that people with a permit are wild-eyed and full of road rage -- nothing could be further from the truth."

Bill Kavanaugh first got his permit in 1997 after passing a criminal background check and taking the state-mandated course on firearm safety and on the strict regimen of laws that dictate where it's legal to carry a handgun and when it's legal to pull a pistol in self-defense.

The permit marks a major turning point in his evolution into an armed private citizen who will take a day off to bend the ear of a state legislator about Second Amendment issues. He's a member of Grass Roots North Carolina, a pro-gun group, but takes pains to point out he isn't an officer or a lobbyist.

He's a true believer in the deterring power of a concealed hand gun, his faith in firepower shaped by that late-night brush with a would-be carjacker at a Mississippi truck stop.

Sitting on his living room couch, he hefts his .45-caliber pistol.

"This helps me not live in fear -- with it or without it on me," he said.



Copyright 2006, The News & Observer Publishing Company
A subsidiary of The McClatchy Company

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Waitone
April 11, 2006, 09:26 AM
<smacks the side of monitor>

Worm hole just opened up over my monitor. I could swear I just read a reasonable, balanced article on CCH in a Raleigh newspaper.

Doug Add
April 11, 2006, 12:25 PM
Frandy beat you to it, and some of us have been discussing the article here (http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?p=2376059#post2376059)

Henry Bowman
April 11, 2006, 03:00 PM
Kavanaugh is a street-legal pistolero:scrutiny: Yeah. That's what my permit says. North Carolina is one of 38 states with relaxed concealed-carry laws or no permit requirements for someone who wants to tote a pistol. No bias, slant or imflamatory words there. :rolleyes:

Stiletto Null
April 11, 2006, 03:03 PM
I think the author was being tongue-in-cheek with the pistolero bit (they ARE trying to draw attention, you know). As for "relaxed laws", how else are they supposed to put it?

N&O is a pretty conservative paper (as far as newspapers go); don't jump on it too quick.

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