Please Hold

Alexander Graham Bell would be disappointed if he was alive today. His great invention, the telephone is today just a ‘phone.’

You can use your phone to take photos, shoot a movie, watch a baseball game, text another person on their phone, tweet, read a book, use it as a flashlight, play a video game, but talk to someone else by using it as a telephone?  Not normal!  No one uses a telephone anymore.  When you do, the recording you hear is something like the following:

  • “Your call is very important to us.”
  • “We apologize for the wait. All our representatives are assisting other customers.”
  • “Please continue to hold for the next available representative.”
  • “Your estimated wait time is 4 minutes.”
  • “Please listen carefully since our menu selections may have changed.”
  • “We are experiencing a large volume of calls . . ..”

These statements may have you assuming the company/organization/agency has numerous representatives on many phones helping other customers. Closer to the truth, there is one person answering the phone.  I know this to be true with a few state agencies, and with several nonprofit organizations.

I have been particularly interested in the technological advancement that will inform you about how long we may have to be on hold until an available representative will be able to assist us [“Your hold time is estimated to be 3 minutes”].

Handling time is the amount of time between when the system puts the customer on hold until the moment an agent becomes available (or the caller hangs up).

The average hold time is calculated by adding up all inbound customer call hold times and dividing that by the number of inbound customer calls answered by the agent or interactive voice response (IVR) system.

Whatever. I prefer they call me back. And that is an option with some systems, but not enough.

Most often I call a company or agency because their website is not clear about the information posted. How frustrating to hear a recording direct me to its website to find the information I am seeking. Ahhggg! I try to press “0” and see if something will happen, but what I often get is another recording, placing me farther down the queue.

Customer service over the telephone is regressing. No one wants to talk to you, anymore. Everyone is emailing, texting, and communicating with methods foreign to a few of us who lapsed in the process of keeping up with technology.

I received a telephone call from an old friend the other day. He does not have a cell phone, and never has. He uses a landline. He has never had a computer, has never played Atari/Frogger, Pacman, and has never used a tablet or any other technological instrument, and that may include a calculator. He has his television and telephone. He gets along just fine.

We talked about how we grew up with a phone on the wall and an operator who answered the telephone when the receiver was listed. I told him our number was 56A (a party line). All he remembered was moving a chair over to the telephone and standing on the chair. “Give me the Ryan’s,” was all he would say. That’s all anyone had to say; you didn’t need a number. Bonita, Stacia, Marg, and Louise, the operators, knew everyone in town.

Things are so much different now, and although I had been good at keeping up with technology, I fell behind a few years ago and I can’t seem to catch up. There are so many features of my phone that I don’t use. I’ve never watched a movie, although I did try to view a baseball game, once. I didn’t enjoy it because the reception was choppy and often blurry.

The camera feature has been used on my phone, and I should use it more. It’s one of the few apps that I may have conquered. But I still haven’t mastered answering the phone when it rings. If I’m wearing my hearing aids, I know when the phone rings, but only because I have a Bluetooth thingy built into the hearing aids. Of course, when the phone rings I have to find it because the instruction booklet claims I only need tap the side of my ear twice and it will automatically connect me to the caller. It has never worked that way. My ears hurt now.

Occasionally, the thought of going back to the landline or flip phone without texting ability becomes tempting.

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No One Wants Your Organs

On the anniversary of my mother’s death, I received a brochure in the mail advertising cremation services.  Is this the epitome of irony?

I suppose it is some sort of sign that I need to complete my last will and testament, as well as my living will.  I have come within a few words of completing both, but for some reason, I haven’t finished either.  Perhaps I possess some fear of completing them only to have each being necessary within weeks – or days.

Funeral services and cremation can be expensive.  My mother had a solution.  She donated her body to science – the University of Nebraska at Omaha, to be exact.  The university paid for virtually everything.  I thought of doing the same thing until I read where neither the Des Moines University, nor the University of Iowa will accept a body that is obese.  I saw no definition of what obese meant to either university, but I am considered to be on the threshold of overweight/obesity when determining my body mass index [BMI]. I have been trying to eat more so that I might grow taller and have my BMI decrease. So far, it hasn’t been working as planned.

Like many parishioners of Saint Ann’s Church in Vail, I paid little attention to the Reverend Denis L. Clark’s sermons.  However, one of them had a profound impact on me.  To paraphrase, he said that the body means nothing.  The soul is the only part of us that remains close to God.  He said that “when I die you should place my body in a gunny sack and throw it off the bridge into the Boyer River.”  If you’re not from western Iowa, you probably want to pronounce the river as the [BOY- er].  You would be wrong.  Boyer is a French word and is pronounced [BOO – your].  In any case, Father Clark is buried in St. Anne’s Cemetery outside of Vail in a genuinely nice location with a huge stone marker that covers the entire grave.

If a bunch of us parishioners fulfilled Father Clark’s wishes by placing his body in a gunny sack (it would have taken more than one) and throwing it off the Boyer River Bridge, the federal Clean Water Act might have been evoked.

It wasn’t that long ago when I mentioned to a small group that I am an organ donor.  Stephanie said, “Honey, no one wants your organs.”  Probably so.  But if I can lose some weight, I can donate all of them in a package deal.

I now have a reason to lose weight – a desire to donate my body to science.  It shouldn’t be so difficult.  Think about it.  Once death takes over, your body is no longer yours.  If there are costs involved, your body will belong to your next of kin.  Why burden them with financial agony when there is a simple, altruistic, cost-effective solution to burial?

However, losing weight at my age is a lost cause (pun intended). When people my age lose weight, they want to know “what is wrong with you?” “Have you been ill?” And rumors begin to take root. “He must have cancer.” “I hear he has a tropical illness.”

So, if you see me in the near future and I look slimmer, know that I have been successful in my quest to lose weight. If you see me, and I seem to have gained weight, please know that I have failed in my attempt to grow up to six-foot, five inches.

That cremation brochure was promptly buried in the round file bin.


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Review Of A Review

The last time I wrote a book review was in Sister Isaiah’s English class as a freshman in high school. I read short book reviews in the Sunday Des Moines Register most weeks. I haven’t read an in-depth review in ages.

I grew up reading the backside of cereal boxes while I had breakfast. I must have read the same cereal box a hundred times just because it was in front of me. I do read extensively, and I read everything. I read several newspapers, magazines, books, junk, advertisements, and about anything else in front of me.

Someone bought me a subscription to Washington Monthly[1]. Thanks, Bob! I have read most of the articles in the most recent issue, but one particular article was a book review that made me think.

The Strike Zone,” a book review by Sarah P. Weeldreyer, convinces me that I might want to read “Fight Like Hell; The Untold History Of American Labor.” I don’t know when I’ll ever get to it; I have so many books to read as it is. But this is a history book like no other.

Upon finishing the article, I couldn’t help but think of a matter that has bothered me for decades. Why do American workers fight union organizing? What are they afraid of? In my few years of union organizing, I can tell you that many workers are afraid of losing their jobs, not being able to cover expenses if they go on strike, or that they want to keep as much of their paycheck as possible without paying union dues. Not one reason is reason enough. Benefits of a union outweigh any objections.

Loyalty to the company is also high on that list of excuses for not wanting to organize. I can understand the desire to be an asset to the employer’s profit, but how far does that commitment go? Unions offer much more than good wages. Sure, it’s plausible that an undesirable co-worker who has been fired might be reinstated in a job after seeking the union’s help, but that’s not the norm.

As a union business agent in the 1980s, I must have filed one hundred grievances for employees who were fired. I can think of one who got his job back, and to be honest, I didn’t think he was a suitable candidate to go as far as we went in the grievance process.

Can you recall learning about labor unions in high school? Certainly, you remember reading about the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), because who could forget a term like the “Wobblies,” as those union workers were known. Maybe you remember reading about the Grange Movement, which preceded unions. I’m not sure today’s students are taught this aspect of American history. The review, and the book, bring up more history of workers organizing than I was ever aware of.

Business has a huge advantage over workers in more ways than you ever thought possible. If you need a good example, go no further than your state legislature or Congress. You cannot turn your head in any direction at the Iowa Capitol without looking at a lobbyist who represents a business or business organization.  But try to find a lobbyist who represents a union. They’re there, but because it’s so difficult to encourage workers that politics is an essential fact to include in their best interest, it is also next to impossible to have them help fund men and women who influence lawmakers.

Corporations, small businesses, and sole proprietors are members in organizations that help them enhance their profits. The Chamber of Commerce, business associations, goodwill nonprofits, and many more membership organizations are essential to the businesses’ good name and standing in the community. So why is it if a group of workers invite a union to town to discuss the possibility of organizing, the whole town, and even many of the employer’s workers are outraged? A union is nothing more than another nonprofit organization that wants to contribute to the community. It does that by increasing the wages of workers who buy products produced or sold in the community, thereby enhancing the financial standing of the whole community. You can see it in the home improvements, the clothing people wear, the lack of empty storefronts, residents driving better vehicles, etc. This is the one dynamic of bringing a union to town that I fail to understand from the perspective of businesses and city and county leaders.

The dumbest thing I have ever heard a co-worker say is that “no one is worth a million dollars a year.” That was the year in which Nolan Ryan, a ferocious baseball pitcher who scared the shit out of batters with his 100-mph fastball, became the first millionaire in Major League Baseball (MLB). In 1979, he signed a four-year contract with the Houston Astros worth $4.5 million.

Does that “not worth it” statement apply to someone who inherits one million dollars? How about a person who is born and raised in the poorest part of a city and rises up to become a wealthy philanthropist?

There’s a tendency that makes people want to hate the fact that someone is making more money than them. On the other hand, it doesn’t bother those same people that some people in the company they work for is making more than any baseball player. We used to say, “don’t bring people down to your level or a lower level, bring everyone up; then, everyone wins.”

Hopefully, I’ll get around to buying Kim Kelly’s book. When I do, I’m going to read it and donate it to the public library. I hope you can do the same. Better yet, donate it to the nearby school’s library and hope that the school’s book review committee doesn’t ban it.

[1] “Washington Monthly is a bimonthly nonprofit magazine of United States politics and government that is based in Washington, D.C. The magazine is known for its annual ranking of American colleges and universities, which serves as an alternative to the Forbes and U.S. News & World Report rankings.”

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Enabling the Entitled

My adult driving record appears to be a sterling example of an upstanding citizen.  It doesn’t reflect the dozen or so times of being pulled over for: struggling to drive the recommended speed; periodic taillight outages; occasionally sliding through a stop sign, etc.  Over the years, there have been an assorted group of law enforcement officers pulling me over to chit-chat for a while, yet something occurs between exiting their vehicle, with pen and pad in hand and leaving our friendly one-on-ones without writing me up for a well-deserved ticket.  One kindly officer even tried to offer me a number of excuses for my taillight being out:

“This isn’t your car?” The officer asked.

“No, it’s my car.”  I responded.

“You didn’t know the light was out.”  The officer stated.

“No, I knew it was out.”  I said.

“It just went out.”  The officer offered.

“No, it’s been out for quite some time.” I said.

When another call came through on his radio, the look of both relief and exasperation was really quite touching.

Another officer pulled me over for sliding through a 3-way stop close to my home.  There was such a dogged look of determination on this fellow’s face as he marched up to my car.

“Ma’am, you did not completely stop back there.”  The officer said, clearly preparing to write up my infraction.

“Thank-you for bring it to my attention, officer.  It’s very easy to get sloppy in my driving habits, especially this close to home.”  I sincerely responded.

Suddenly stricken with inner-conflict, this man’s face contorted and changed color, until ultimately deciding against writing me up.

So, why do some people pay consequences for their actions and others are allowed to drive away?  There are just some people granted entitlement.

Others earn entitlement, but carry it with humility.  My father was such a man.  People put him on a pedestal for surviving 25 missions as a WWII, B-17 pilot.  He was a man of faith, who gave God the credit for his survival.

The decidedly largest and most vocal entitlement candidates are those dubbing themselves such because of: fame, inherited wealth, acquired wealth, education, expertise or maybe just because their ancestors came over on the Mayflower.  These poor souls get extremely agitated and at times angry when not properly revered.

Within this group of artificially entitled are those believing sexual favors are part of the package.  Former Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura spoke about this during an interview years ago.  He felt, as a Navy SEAL himself, that women should sexually service SEALS, after all, these courageous men put their lives at risk for our country, which entitles them to, well sex on demand.  Poetic patriotism.  It would never occur to this group that the sexual attention would be seen as undesirable, unwanted or nonconsensual.  Any woman should be flattered by being selected for this special attention.

The gauntlet recently fell on this distorted viewpoint and we’ve watched powerful, seemingly entitled men such as Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, R&B music star R. Kelly and Mr. Jell-O Pudding Pop, Bill Cosby pay serious consequences for taking unwanted sexual favors.  But just when it seems some headway has been made on treating women with respect, the National Football League (NFL) enters the picture with the mute button stuck on a rather curious delayed enforcement of its code of conduct policy.

Gifted quarterback Deshaun Watson has been in the news as his trade to the Cleveland Browns   from the Houston Texans, sparked anger, admiration, confusion and for some women, searing pain followed by a sense of utter hopelessness.  Over twenty women have accused Watson of various sexual misconduct acts during his many massage therapy sessions.  He won’t be facing criminal charges, but civil suits are still pending.  The Browns organization feel that they properly vetted him before signing him to a record breaking $230 million guaranteed contract.  Watson stated that although he can’t discuss the case, he has never assaulted or disrespected women, it isn’t who he is and counseling is unnecessary, because he hasn’t done anything wrong, has no regrets and is going to work towards clearing his name.  The Browns clearly stated a number of times that their focus is on “Deshaun the person” and they believe in him.  His brand will be to get involved in helping the community.

Yet, there is a moral responsibility for those willing to enable the entitled.  For example, the first time I was pulled over at age 18 by a Wisconsin State Trooper on my way back to a graveyard shift job in Minnesota, a twelve-pack of beer was clearly visible on the passenger seat with a few  empties on the floor.  He looked me in the eyes, smiled and waved me on, saying:

“Take it easy to the border.”

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Spring Cleaning

Law enforcement agencies throughout the United States are stepping up to donate equipment to Ukraine.  Most of the donations are body armor vests and helmets, both made of a bullet-resistant material.  I know of no other bullet-resistant material other than Kevlar, but the equipment could be made from other synthetic materials manufactured by other firms.

The Kevlar equipment being donated has outlived its use.  Kevlar guarantees its product for only five years because the material can deteriorate as moisture, heat and other atmospheric factors weaken the material.  After that time, mostly because of liability, law enforcement agencies must upgrade and purchase new tactical equipment and destroy outdated equipment.

The protective vests and helmets being sent to Ukraine are those that were destined to be destroyed. I suppose the intention is noble, but isn’t it a little like sending a dozen jars of mayonnaise to the food bank because the ‘best by’ date stamped on the side was six months ago?  The mayo is probably still good, but once the jar is opened it won’t take long to spoil. Similarly, with equipment that was intended to be destroyed, isn’t the likelihood that it will not withstand the expectations of Ukrainian soldiers?

I don’t want to dissuade what appears to be an altruistic gesture of law enforcement agencies across America, but the donation of otherwise useless equipment brings up a question that so many local and state governments should address.  For instance, the City of Des Moines Municipal Code allows the procurement administrator to “dispose of surplus property not deemed suitable or appropriate for sale by such means as the procurement administrator deems appropriate.”  That language is so broad you could drive an armored personnel carrier through it.  And some local jurisdictions have one.

For years, the federal government made excess government equipment available to states, counties, and cities at no cost (or a minimal shipping and handling fee).  Some of that equipment included mine-resistant trucks, grenade launchers, utility trucks, rifles, night vision goggles and other gear.

  • Police receive most of their militarized equipment through two federal programs: the 1033 and the 1122 initiatives.
  • The 1033 program allows the Department of Defense to transfer excess military equipment to local law enforcement agencies free of charge, as long as they pay for shipping and maintenance.
  • In some cases, equipment transferred through these programs has simply vanished due to an apparent lack of oversight and poor bookkeeping.

The city of Iowa City has a mine resistant ambush vehicle. An MRAP (pronounced Em-wrap), is a “49,000-pound, 10-foot-tall, six-wheel-drive behemoth” primarily used in the wars in the Mid-east.  Sheriffs in Buena Vista, Des Moines, Jasper, Scott, and Story counties also have the MRAPs, as well as city police departments in Mason City and Storm Lake.

The donation of vests and helmets are like throwing a dollar in the hat when it’s passed.  However, donating those weapons of war like MRAPs, night vision goggles, rifles, and other large military items would be like tossing a twenty-dollar bill into the hat.  Further, those weapons of war should not be used to militarize our police forces, who are there to protect our communities’ residents, not to combat them.

Those five-year-old helmets and vests would have been destroyed if not donated to the Ukrainians.  Granted, green is good.  But the loophole in the process of determining that they are no longer useful or appropriate should be tweaked.  The broad language in municipal codes that allows procurement administrators to dispose of surplus and outdated equipment as the administrator “deems appropriate” needs oversight, specific requirements, and regular periodic auditing provisions.

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We, The Jury

In many states, and in some federal jurisdictions, you may be excused from jury service if you are over the age of seventy – no questions asked.  Jury duty used to be something that many people disliked.  Not me.  I wanted to be on a jury ever since I was a young man.  Now, I’m 71 and still have that desire to be empaneled on a jury – petit or grand – makes no difference.

My first opportunity came when I was called for jury duty sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s in Crawford County, Iowa.  I remember being excited about sitting in the jury box during voir dire (French word meaning “to speak the truth.”  It’s that period before a trial when lawyers from both sides question potential jurors to wean the larger pool of prospective jurors down to the required amount, twelve jurors in a criminal case.)  I sat in the front row.

One of the attorneys told the entire pool that the case was not a criminal trial, but a civil trial that involved an accident between a truck and a car on Highway 141 west of Denison, Iowa.  I remember seeing a young woman at one of the tables, and I had to assume that she was one of the parties to the suit.  I don’t recall much more factual information than that about the case.  Perhaps I wasn’t informed of any more facts.

Surprisingly, although I was in the middle of the first row, I received the first question. “How do you feel about insurance companies?”  “I hate ‘em,” I replied.  The follow up question went something like, “do you believe that would prejudice your decision?”  My answer: “It has, already.”  No more questions for me.  I was sent back to work once a jury was assembled and there can be no doubt, I was too blatantly honest to be a juror.

The next time I was called for jury duty was after living in Des Moines for several years.  It was a week in March which included the Iowa Legislature’s first funnel deadline, the busiest week of the session for a lobbyist.  It was my belief that I would be out of the courthouse before noon.  There was no way I was going to sit on a jury since being employed as a paralegal/lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), especially if the case was one of a criminal nature.  Even placing a legal assistant on a jury in a civil case is unusual.  “Minneapolis lawyer Robert J. Beugen told Minnesota Lawyer, “I would never allow an attorney or even someone with legal training on to a jury panel. Typically you want a clean slate and not someone with preformed impressions.””  Action at the Capitol didn’t begin until 1:00 pm.  I shouldn’t miss a thing.

Ironically, it was Polk County’s busiest court docket for trials that week.  Along with a few hundred Polk County residents, I was shuffled into and out of several different court rooms.  A single group probably had between 25 and 50 potential jurors.  I was not asked a question in any of the voir dire proceedings and sat there wondering how long before I would be released.

Sometime in the afternoon, those of us not chosen for a jury were allowed to leave.  However, we were to report back on the following day, a Tuesday, to go through the entire process again.  Tuesday was like Monday with one exception.  We were shuffled into a court room where I noticed a good friend of mine was sitting at one of the tables.  He was a drinking buddy.

The judge asked if any of us knew the lawyers or parties to this case, which was a contract obligation written on a bar napkin between two drinking buddies.  I had to raise my hand.  The judge asked me who I knew.  “I know the plaintiff,” I said.  “How do you know the plaintiff?” the judge asked.  ‘Shit!’ I thought.  I don’t want to say we were drinking buddies, so I mentioned that we met occasionally at a restaurant in our hometown (I was living in Martensdale at the time, a village 17 miles from Des Moines).  It was a restaurant, but it was also a bar.  So, I didn’t lie.  However, I think the judge saw right through it.

Tuesday evening was the same as Monday.  Come back on Wednesday morning.

Wednesday morning, a group of us who somehow were never good enough for any of the other trials, were led into yet another courtroom to go through the motions.  This trial was a criminal trial, and the prosecutor, a young man, asked if anyone knew what “beyond a reasonable doubt” meant.  I raised my hand.  He wasn’t going to choose an ACLU employee in a criminal matter, anyway.  I gave him the definition as close to Black’s Law Dictionary’s as I could.  “Correct,” he said.  Next thing I knew I was one of the jurors in this trial where a man was charged with the crime of “carrying weapons.”

Before I go into the trial, I must segue into a matter that disturbed me deeply.  Those of us jurors who were chosen had to be sworn in (when others said “swear” I said “affirm”).  The judge began with “repeat after me . . ..”  And at the end he said: “So help me God.”  I must have had my mouth wide open in shock.  No, I didn’t repeat that after him.  Years later, I ran into the district’s chief judge and asked him why that archaic swearing was still used.  I am not a Jehovah’s Witness, but I am not going to have the wrath of God hanging over my head because I may have made a mistake.  The chief judge said, “I don’t know.”  Truly, I thought they did away with that.

Back to the trial.  A woman bought a pair of boots for her brother (the defendant) and her boyfriend.  The boots for her brother did not fit, so he took them back to the store to exchange them for a pair that did fit.  When he arrived at the store, he picked the box up out of the trunk of the car and brought it into the store.  He sat the box on the counter and said he wanted to exchange the boots.  What he didn’t know was that the box was not the box with the undersized boots, but the boyfriend’s box with a broken, non-functioning .22 caliber pistol.  The clerk saw the gun and called the police.  Meanwhile, the defendant was looking at boots.  When the police arrived, he was arrested for “carrying weapons.[1]”  Only 3 people testified, the clerk, the policeman, and the woman who bought the boots.  The defendant did not take the stand.

We elected a man who was an assistant manager at a Hy-Vee grocery store to be the jury foreman.  He had been on a jury once before.  I never said a word during deliberations but let everyone else have their say.  It was a sensible, rational, logical, and civil discussion.  It didn’t take long to come up with the decision that the man was not guilty.  That’s when I raised my hand.  “It’s almost noon.  I think we should not rush into this decision but have them buy us lunch and come back to make sure everyone is okay with this verdict.”  My recommendation was accepted unanimously.  We went to lunch at Johnny’s Café in the Court Avenue District.  We were marched back to the jury deliberation room, and I had one more suggestion.  “Let’s wait at least fifteen minutes before we inform them that we have reached a verdict.  We shouldn’t make anyone feel that we went to lunch just because we could.”  Another unanimous decision.

The defendant was found “not guilty,” and the jury was dismissed.  It was too late to go back to the Capitol.  I deserved to have the rest of the week off, and so I did.

I’ve been summoned for jury duty four times since.  Two times were for Polk County.  The two summonses came back-to-back.  I called the courthouse when I received the subsequent one because I knew you shouldn’t have to serve twice in a two-year period.  In my call, I discovered that the first time they summoned Martin Ryan and the second time they summoned Marty Ryan.  I was not called either time.

The other two times I was summoned it was the federal district court.  I never had the chance to even walk into the federal courthouse for either of the two.  Evidently, cases were settled out of court.

My thoughts on jury duty were brought about because of a bill in the Iowa Senate.  Senate File 2235 was a bill on the Iowa Senate Calendar that would allow a person to “be excused from Jury service if the person is a least seventy-two years of age and notified the court that the person is at least seventy-two years of age and wishes to be exempted from jury service.”  The bill is dead for the year, but if it was enacted, the courts will not hear from me.  If called, I will serve.



[1] 724.4 Carrying weapons. 1. Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person who goes armed with a dangerous weapon concealed on or about the person, or who, within the limits of any city, goes armed with a pistol or revolver, or any loaded firearm of any kind, whether concealed or not, or who knowingly carries or transports in a vehicle a pistol or revolver, commits an aggravated misdemeanor.  [Aggravated misdemeanors are the most serious class of misdemeanors, generally punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine of between $625 and $6,250. For example, carrying a gun without a permit is an aggravated misdemeanor.]

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