Occupy St. Louis and The 2nd Amendment

I slowly navigated my small pickup around the herds of Cardinals fans gathered downtown to bear witness to the parade for the 2011 World Series champions. The parade would not be for another two hours, but all the choice parking was gone. I finally found a place up Washington Avenue, a good 15 minute hike to Kiener Plaza, my destination. I was not going to join the jubilant Redbirds fans. Kiener Plaza is where the St. Louis version of Occupy Wall Street had set up camp . . .

I force-marched my way toward my destination, past the Centenary Methodist church where I found a spray-painted anarchy tag. I snapped a photo, and wondered if this was a fortend.  I went up to and through the Soldier’s Memorial. The crowds thickened the closer I came to downtown. I passed the civil courts building, pausing to snap a photo of the memorial to St. Louis Police who had fallen in the line of duty.

When I arrived at Kiener Plaza, I planned to find “Occupy” participants – “occupants” I suppose – and ask them about the 2nd Amendment.

My first interview was with John. John was a solid man with his tawny-streaked silver hair pulled back into a ponytail.  He smiled as he concentrated on his work. John was not staying overnight, but was helping out an “occupant” by truing up a warped bike wheel.

John said he supported “These kids,” because “…they are fighting to have a future…” John had a long, easy manner about him. He attentively twisted the spokes, slowly and methodically using a large crescent wrench to bring the wheel into true.

As he worked, I asked him about his view of the 2nd Amendment. He looked up at me and said “I believe it is important.”

I’ll admit this was a surprise.

“Look, a man will do whatever it takes to survive. You back a man into a corner, he can do all sorts of things. The 2nd amendment means a person has the right to defend themselves.”

John went on to lament the economic realities we faced, and reiterated his view that citizens in rough neighborhoods ought to be able to avail themselves of a firearm.

I meandered around a bit. Old tents had been pitched in the grassy areas in the perimeter of one side of the plaza as well as on the paved center. Musicians growled on the center stage, some loud, others unable to make their equipment do much but create something of an atmosphere.

The pillars all had duct-taped signs denouncing corporatism, capitalism, or announcing a film festival or activism seminar. I came upon a group of young people sitting in the amphitheater talking and half-listening to the performers.

Chrissie describes herself as a “professional pain in the ass” and presents as her leftist bona-fides her work with MoveOn.org. “Let me tell you a funny story” she offered, “I became a liberal when I was three. I was watching Dumbo on Mother’s Day and Ronald Reagan came on with some bullshit announcement and I hated him ever since.”

I laugh, thinking I learned to hat Nixon the same way, only it was Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer. “Can I get your thoughts on the 2nd Amendment?” I ask.

I offer to read it, but Chrissie has a pocket copy and reads it out loud. As the others ponder my question, she begins. “I think, grammatically, the way it is written, that the militia part was to reduce or eliminate the need for a standing Army.”

I scribble this down as she continues “Look, my grandma shot food in her pinafore, so my family has had guns in their lives way back.”

Trey, a full time engineering student who is working full time in a restaurant works to manage a frisky dog while composing his thoughts. “I agree with Chrissie, though I think I am even more…adamant about the 2nd Amendment”

He continues, “I mean, we have no protection against government tyranny without it. I don’t know how many crimes have been committed with legal guns, but lots of crimes against the people have been committed with government guns.”

Riffing on this point, Chrissie says “Fast and Furious is an example of government providing guns to criminals.” She fishes in her purse for a working lighter to fire up a small plastic tipped cigar.

“If that’s ever proven” Trey interrupts.

I add that it is definite that the government provided guns to criminals and that Congress is investigating the details. “Exactly” Chrissie concludes through a puff of smoke that frames her face.

“I do not have a gun, but I want to get one.  I want to get a concealed carry permit.” Trey says, finally having calmed the dog down.

“What do you think of Missouri’s concealed carry law?” I ask, looking at Chrissie.

“I’m not exactly against it, but I am worried about the wrong people running around with guns,” she offers.

Alyssa sports a blue hoodie replete with what appear to be vulgarities and a shocking red hairdo.  She rejoins the group after taking a brief hiatus.  I re-read the 2nd amendment to her to get her thoughts.

“I hadn’t thought to much about it…” she admits “But people have a right to self defense and hunting.”

Alyssa is concerned about high-capacity magazines, a theme jumped on by Trey and Chrissy. They agree that a man walking up the street with an “AK” with 200 rounds is more than the 2nd amendment was meant to protect.

Conan comes at the end of my session with Alyssa, Trey and Chrissie, missing out on the group photo. He is providing medical help to the occupants though he has no formal medical training. His long hair is pulled back, and he has a serious look on his face.  While he is participating in the occupation, I am unable to secure any leftist bona-fides, only that he is politically undefined.

“The 2nd Amendment is our right to rise up against tyranny” he says, setting his jaw.  “If the government ever fired on protestors, that would mean it is time to fight back.”

A discussion began about the ability of the people to resist the government. The military, in their view, had the overwhelming advantage in firepower. I did not ask if this militated against their objection to high-capacity magazines.

Allyssa offered that she is an activist for gay marriage, and is on the fence on the issue of pro-life/pro-choice. She is adamant that immigrants come in the front door and that illegal immigration should be curtailed.

“I guess we are not your typical bunch of leftists” Trey observes.

Chrissie takes the opportunity to object to my “leftist” formulation.  “We’re not just a bunch of George Soros funded Obamabots. If you check around, not too many here are fans of Obama.” As we speak, somebody yells “IDIOTS!”  Chrissie smiles gracefully.

I went on and spoke to Freddy, an African American who had stopped by our clutch to say hello to the dog. I asked if he was part of the group and he said yes, but when I asked about the 2nd Amendment, he deferred to his friend Roy.

Roy is also black, with a soft, burly build.  .We sit and I ask him about the 2nd Amendment, and read it from my wallet-sized bill of rights autographed by Penn Gillette.

What do you think about the 2nd Amendment, gun ownership, etc.” I ask.

Roy thought for a moment and said “I’d like to get rid of it – all of them.  There are too many guns on the street, too many kids get their parent’s guns and kill or get killed.”

He continued “My sister was killed in a drive by shooting in San Diego walking out of a midnight service at church on New Year’s Eve. They hit my nephew too.  All they were doing was going to get a snack at a little store up the street.”

Roy has seen recent tragedy “Two of my cousins were shot, one of them is dead.  I don’t know what that was about, I just learned about it.” Roy is visibly wearier recounting the tragedies. “Hell, I’ve been shot.”

Pointing to scars visible on his wrist, then to his arm and leg, Roy said “I was a cop, and I got shot up on a drug bust.”

“You were shot in the line of duty?” I said.

“Yeah, I was at the back door, and he came out guns blazing. Shot me up.”

“Were you disabled?”

“No, but they wanted to put me on desk duty, and not back on patrol, so I left the force” he replied. “The kid who shot me asked me to help him get his life turned around.”

“Really? What did you do?” I asked.

Roy shrugged. “I helped him, he did 18 years for shooting me. He got off of drugs, and I helped him out when he got out. He’s a preacher now.”

At a distance Sean looked like a professor in search of a class. Tall, he has a malt liquor stashed in the breast pocket of his cloth sport jacket. His tall deeply creased face is illuminated by two bright blue eyes.He speaks quickly and articulately, if a bit at length.  Sean says he is not a participant, but an observer.  He believes he understands better than the occupants the issues they face, but is working out the best approach to share his ideas.

“Sean, it seems it might be hard for me to do your ideas justice” I say, trying to politely excuse myself from a more extensive battery of ideas than what will fit my narrow interest.

“OK” he says “Ask me a specific question, and I will give you a specific answer.”  I repeat the same question I have asked of the other occupants.

“Which one is the 2nd Amendment?” he asks. I recite it from memory.

“I’m a regular guy – I love to do regular guy things.  I have no problem with the right to keep and bear arms.”

Sean continued his stream of thought “If we eliminate the right to bear arms, America is more vulnerable.” He pauses “Look, I don’t think you should have a bazooka, and what the hell do you need a 50 round clip for, but since we cannot define what the limit is, we need to leave the right alone.”

“I hope to God we can be responsible, is all I am saying” he concludes. “I mean, walking around with an Uzi is weird – what is that for, but the right is the right. It remains.”

After talking with Sean, I pack it in. I met with seven people at the Occupy St. Louis “be in” and only one person has a problem with both guns and the 2nd Amendment. Given Roy’s history, I understand why even if I do not agree.

This is St. Louis, after all, so perhaps the REALLY frothing, spittle-soaked gun-grabbing hippies are in other cities with a populous of a less conservative nature. That said, Sean was from the Pacific Northwest, not exactly Sarah Palin country.

I have much to ponder. Your thoughts?