Guns! Sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you, but they’re back in the news.
Oregon lawmakers, led by House Democrats from the most violent and dangerous urban cities in the state, have passed an awful gun-control bill that won’t do anything except make firearms too expensive and impractical for many people who need them most, especially single women and people of color.
The timing is ironic, coming amid a bouquet of riot gas and arson, tolerated criminality, discharged inmates, decriminalization of hard drugs and the discouragement of policing.
‘So who needs a gun, anyway?’ you ask from the artificial safety of your gated compound. Soon enough, you, but for now, Me. I don’t live in a homogenous enclave where troublemakers are banned per HOA writ. As a beat reporter, I often work in a world of trouble where bad actors are plentiful and the cops are always 30 minutes away.
Mighty as it may seem, I don’t always don’t take a pen to a swordfight. In reality, without the Second Amendment, the First Amendment would be lying in a puddle of gore. No more National Enquirer, no more New York Times.
The latest confirmation of this journalistic truth occurred recently in the alcove of the county courthouse, where I’d been reporting on some Russian neo-Nazis for a Portland TV station. A scumbag who was loitering at the entrance gave me a jailhouse smirk and stepped into my path.
“You’re Mr. Beasley, aren’t you? Yeah, that’s you,” he quietly sneered, stepping back and raising his palms. “That’s okay, I’m not doing anything — I know you carry.”
I wasn’t packing at the courthouse, of course, though he didn’t know it. My reputation — which I admit ain’t too good in some circles — was good enough that day to carry me through the parking lot without a punch-up.
Frankly, I’m too old, too tired and too surprised that I’ve made it this far to have my ass kicked, anymore. I’ve been chased down and beaten three times in my newspaper career and have outrun or out-maneuvered as many would-be assailants or more, including a viciously drunk state legislator outside a long-gone Salem watering hole called the Red Rooster during my paparazzi phase.
People who were never in a brawl where they were lucky to lose just an eye or limp away with a lifelong injury sometimes question the notion of armed self-defense. That’s okay for highbrows and Hutterites, but I can no longer outrun trouble without pulling something. And trouble goes with the beat, like the story I did on a guy who pounded the bejeezuz out of his old lady after she appeared, to his surprise, in a men’s magazine photo contest. I was at my fighting weight then, still trim enough to low-crawl under a parked car and avoid further blows from the boyfriend and his pals.
Years of run-ins with hucksters, mobsters, Nazis and ne’er-do-wells who were the fodder for outrageous crime stories or scandalous exposes’ have given me valuable tools to defuse most situations, sometimes with unintended results.
Once, a notorious town thug who ended up in the police news after being arrested for marijuana possession stormed into our tiny office, threatening to kill the publisher. I gave him a sympathetic ear as the office ladies fled out the back door. He was wrongfully accused, he declared; it was his girlfriend’s pot — he never touched the stuff, himself.
He mellowed as I walked him to his pickup, but suddenly the anger flared again. As he slammed the door and peeled-away in a swirl of blue smoke, I looked down at my feet where a one-gallon bag of marijuana had fallen to the pavement.
In Junction City, where I bought a newspaper when I was 25, shocking Page One stories were endless in a town where bikers ran the drugs, a police chief was found dead under a burning car and the biggest Realtor in town was mysteriously assassinated with a bullet through his kitchen window. The only safe place was my office, where every desk had its own heater.
But in Couer d’Alene, Idaho, where I was the news editor of the daily paper, the office was the target. The Aryan Brotherhood, who gave us plenty of grist for the mill, simply dynamited the building one night.
When somebody firebombed my midnight-blue 240-Z at the weekly Stayton Mail, the police chief suspected radical school boosters angry over an editorial defending a teacher who was fired for being a lesbian (yes, there was time when such a thing could happen). “Or it could’ve been that drug raid you went on,” Chief Ross chuckled. “You’ve got quite a fan club.”
Journalists who make their living churning out lawn chair reviews and fawning over slick politicians never experience this level of personal danger. But it could be worse. In Mexico, Russia, Pakistan and Venezuela, where they can’t pack heat, investigative reporters are murdered with sickening frequency.
Still, in the old days, I could usually outrun trouble. Now that my undercarriage is obsolete and my demeanor sour, I have adopted different protocols. I avoid bars unless I’m working undercover. I don’t wear press credentials in public. I sit near an exit at city council meetings, and I may pack heat when the need arises because the ground upon which I stand is now the only place I can go.
Guns! Sorry to startle, again. But the Second Amendment is the only thing keeping my First Amendment rights alive. Without a gun, you probably wouldn’t get a decent story out of me.