Career Changers

Guns Versus Cameras

April 13th, 2012

At heart, I'm a libertarian who doesn't want government meddling in my personal affairs -- unless what I or someone else does may harm others. I also believe in the free market system... up to a point. There are too many crooks and greedy bastards out there who will game the system, or take advantage of decent hard-working people just to make more money. When it comes to law and order, however, my liberal values become compromised. The national debate over the Trayvon Martin "self defense" shooting and local news about criminal activity around Otto Cake in Chinatown are two sides of the same coin, although they may seem totally unrelated on the surface.

What connects them is the failed War on Drugs. What's the number one reason for robberies and burglaries? Addicts -- and unemployed/low-income people who turn to drugs for escape -- need money to pay whatever dealers can charge, based on supply and demand. It's why we feel the need to have Neighborhood Watches, and carry guns or install security cameras. Which are just bandages that do nothing to address the underlying problem: taking care of the addiction first. In other countries where drugs are treated as a health problem, the government takes steps to supply drugs or treatment to addicts -- so it's less necessary for those addicts to commit crimes to feed their habits. Doesn't that make more fiscal sense?

Some of you will say: but that will lead to MORE addiction! Not true. Studies show that while making drugs legal may lead to a short term increase in usage or experimentation, the addiction rate stays pretty much the same. Legal or illegal, there will always be roughly 10 percent of the population that gets addicted to alcohol, drugs or something. Tougher laws -- even death sentences -- do not change that statistic. It's a genetic thing.

The urge to defend our property is instinctual. But carrying a loaded gun on a Neighborhood Watch? That's asking for trouble. Yet for people in crime-infested areas, what are the options? That's why I sympathize with Otto (real name Scott Michael McDonough) who has been harassed and assaulted by drug dealers in Chinatown. He took pictures and video of the alleged criminals. Then last night on TV news I saw a Honolulu police officer say you should NOT take photos or video of drug dealing or other illegal activity because the bad guys might seek retribution. Instead, the officer said you should call 911. Right. This coming from the same police department that says it's too busy to respond to every complaint, while they're out writing tickets for jaywalking or setting up speed traps in the middle of the day.

I've been in Otto's shoes. My wife and I live next to a park, where kids will congregate and break out joints or pipes to smoke one thing or the other. When they do it right behind our house, they've crossed the line. I have called 911 before, but the kids are usually gone by the time the cops arrive... and when the men in blue do respond quickly, they can easily spot the police cars entering the parking lot, and just walk away. So I started taking photos and video of the kids first. Then I tell them they better leave before I call the cops. One or two will always mouth off. That's when I hold up the camera and ask them to continue talking so I have more evidence to present to the police. That usually shuts them up, and they split. For good.

It got me to thinking that Trayvon would still be alive if George Zimmerman was carrying a camera instead of a gun. Yeah, I can hear the NRA saying that's ridiculous because the bad guys are all carrying lethal weapons. Unfortunately, the gun doesn't make any judgement on who is good or bad once it is fired. Dead is dead. So should Otto arm himself and presume he must be willing to shoot someone just to protect his business? Or would it be more sensible for him and other shop owners to install security cameras -- maybe hook them up to a monitoring room in the Chinatown police station. If HPD doesn't have enough manpower to walk the beats, perhaps a pair of eyes can watch a bunch of streets at one time on video monitors. And that is where my views on personal liberty become conflicted...

I hate the idea we have to surrender our rights to privacy just because of a few bad people. But until we decide to get real about the underlying causes of crime -- addiction being high on the list -- I don't know if we have any alternative, other than packing heat or carrying a camera. At least in the latter option, if you shoot first and ask questions later, no one gets killed.

ADDENDUM (4/18/12): To commenters who claim there hasn't been a significant increase in the number of guns owned in Hawaii, check out these statistics from the State Attorney General's office:

REPORT FROM THE ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE – The Department of the Attorney General has released its annual report detailing state firearm registration statistics for calendar year 2011.

A record high total of 15,375 personal/private firearm permit applications were processed statewide during 2011, marking a substantial 20.1% increase from the previous record high of 12,801 applications processed in 2010... Firearm registration activity increased dramatically over the course of the twelve years for which these data have been systematically compiled and reported.  From 2000 through 2011, the number of permit applications processed annually climbed 136.9%, the number of firearms registered soared 170.3%, and the number of firearms imported surged 148.3%.


The current episode of Career Changers TV is being preempted by high school sports this weekend, but you can still DVR it on other days or watch video segments on the CCTV YouTube Channel. Lots of chocolate-related stories in this month's show! Check it out on OC16.

9 Responses to “Guns Versus Cameras”

  1. Manoa_Fisherman:

    The differences between the Mainland and Hawaii are always significant when it comes to violence, especially shootings. Living in a confined island with a fairly concentrated population that clearly knows many of our neighbors and those in the community, the likelihood of racial or gang violence between neighbors are far less than in the mainland, so it seems.

    In the mainland, when a serious crime is committed, the cops seem to go in the mode of "round up the usual suspects" hoping that the dragnet will pick up some suspects. In Hawaii, it seems that the cops know who the perps are and don't have enough legal basis for an arrest or prosecution, as in the Chinatown situation.

    In Manoa, the community watch is very well organized with numerous groups organized in many of the neighborhoods. The HPD patrol officers often admit they know who the criminals are, as in the case of many burglaries in the last few years, but have not caught them in the act or with the goods. The Manoa watch groups have websites to communicate the latest information and blogs to keep the community up to date on a daily basis. Workshops have been given on video systems for the home and neighborhoods, with some very good results of crooks caught in the act and escape vehicles with license numbers clearly indicated. Two hundred years ago they would have been called the community militia.

    So what does this all mean? It means crime, like politics, is local. There is no one solution fits all. Giving Chinatown more street cameras and the people who live and work there video cameras will not get rid of the thugs who own the street. In the old days, the HPD had a Metro Squad that handled situations such as Chinatown when the street thugs had to be cleaned out. Unfortuantely, with the advent of the ACLU and bleeding heart liberals, the heavy handed methods of yesterday are literally outlawed, but people out there, it worked back then.

  2. Koolau:

    Like others, the above makes assumptions without knowing the facts. If (and if is emphasized) Zimmerman is indeed telling the truth, would a camera have saved his life? There's no question the experience of the writer above, is a positive one sans the use of a gun, but it's not reasonable to put all situations in a shoe box. There are many stories of decent folks who have saved their own lives from home invaders with the use of a firearm.

  3. Rich Figel:

    Can you cite just how many people have "saved their own lives from home invaders" as compared to how many innocent people have been shot by accident -- including children and the gun owners themselves?

    My point is if Zimmerman chose to play video vigilante instead of Clint Eastwood, the confrontation probably wouldn't have even happened. You can take photos or video of suspicious activity without having to get in someone's face, or you can do it from a safe distance.

  4. Rich Figel:

    Manoa -

    Have you been keeping up on the news? There are more and more shootings in Hawaii and cases of people being robbed at gunpoint. More guns mean more gun incidents.

    But I agree most of the crimes are committed by the same people and the police -- or someone -- knows who those suspects are. Take graffiti, for example. The vandals use "tags" to announce who they are, then post photos of their own vandalism on the web. You can't tell me that kids or young people out there don't know who the taggers are! It angers me because I'm involved in the beach access movement... then I see idiots who deface private property next to public access ways, and those morons give justification to beachfront property owners to close off their private beach accesses.

    When graffiti taggers deface property in the park behind our house, I immediately go out and paint over it. Because these taggers are lazy, they give up after one or two times and haven't come back. But in other areas where residents don't do anything to cover up old graffiti, the taggers return and add more of their ugly "art."

  5. Rich Figel:

    P.S. to Manoa -

    By the "old days," do you mean when there was a proliferation of opium dens and brothels in Chinatown? The heavy-handed methods you refer to were also used to shakedown people. Cracks me up when I hear comments that attack anyone for criticizing HPD, as if cops were saints. Read the headlines: police officers arrested for growing marijuana, drunken driving, domestic violence... I have personally interviewed sex trafficking victims who fear the police because cops used to force them to have sex with them to stay out of jail. Police are human, and just like all humans, there are good ones and bad ones.

  6. Rich Figel:

    To Koolau -

    I did some quick research on your statement: according to most statistical studies I could find, the ratio of accidental versus justifiable deaths caused by homeowners with guns is 4 to 1. For every one justified use to kill an intruder, there were four accidental deaths... usually children who got hold of the guns, or family member who was shot "accidentally" (in some cases, probably related to drinking and arguing or fighting).

    Still, my contention is much of the crime and fear we're talking about is related to drugs and addiction, and the failed War on Drugs strategy that is based on Prohibition.

  7. Manoa_Fisherman:

    You sound like the typical mainland transplant who think they know it all and us locals are too stupid to make our own decisions. First, you are wrong about more gun violence in Hawaii. Take a look at the statistics, Hawaii has the lowest raw numbers of gun violence in the entire nation. The Attorney General's office compiles the numbers of crimes in the State and there hasn't been an upsurge in gun related crimes if you care to look at the real numbers. Crime goes up when the economy goes down, that is a given and all types of crimes rise, including gun related ones.

    As for the Metro Squad reference, I pointed that out so that folks could understand the difference between agressive enforcement of the law and current model of the police as a social worker or mediator at they seem to want to be today. If any thing my comment was critical of the current and recent HPD administrations.

    As for taggers, there should be an open bounty for "tagging them" with agressive actions by the community that would include video taping the taggers, shooting them with paint balls (after all wounding them seriously with a pellet gun or 22 would be against the law), and, lastly, an old fashion talking to "local style". The later seems to work on some of the buildings around town, because the taggers don't want to be seen around some buildings, bad for their health.

  8. Rich Figel:

    Hawaii has a lower incident of gun violence because we have tougher gun laws and restrictions than on the Mainland, which I applaud. Also, because we are an island, it's harder to sneak in illegal guns. As for being a "typical Mainland transplant," I've been living here since 1985 and have never said it was a local mindset that is the problem... I live here, in part, because I don't want to be associated with Mainland thinking that allows any nut job to own a gun... and Republicans would like to ELIMINATE ANY RESTRICTIONS on gun ownership, or even background checks. Dems are too timid to take on the NRA.

    Let me be clear: I think it's foolish that states like Florida pass laws allowing people to carry around guns and shoot them just because they think someone is a threat.

    Where did I say anything about locals being "too stupid to make their own decisions"? Please show me, and I'll eat my words.

    However, there HAS been an increase in gun-related crimes in Hawaii. Again, just pick up the newspaper each day or watch the news. And again, most of it is by people with drug problems, who are habitual offenders... if no one does anything to get them help for their addiction first, they will just do their jail time, then return to their old ways and crimes to feed their habit when they get released.

  9. Rich Figel:

    Listen, Manoa, I don't want to get in a peeing match because you misunderstood what I wrote -- I never said Hawaii has more gun violence than on the Mainland. I said it has increased in recent years because more criminals are getting their hands on guns, legally or illegally.

    As for the crack about me being a typical Mainland transplant, from the looks of your last name, your family is a transplant too... correct? Unless you're pure Hawaiian, we are all transplants here.

    Peace out,