Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Convention Conversations: Swords

I am going into my 5th year as a director of operations for Izumicon, and I wanted to take advantage of the Facebook visibility to start some talking point with con attendees. My goal here is not to lecture, but to share the benefits of my experience, and to provoke some thought.

But first...
Disclaimer: This is not an official Izumicon communication, and the statements made here are not representative of, or policy of Izumicon. I am not a policy maker within the Izumicon organisation, and while my opinion is asked for, it is not the overriding factor in safety related issue.  This blog post is my opinion and experience only, and should be considered that, and only that.

After five years heading up safety for our con, I've had the true privilege of shaking hands with, and talking to some amazing people within the cosplay community. The words "creative" and "dedicated" do not begin describe the craftsmanship I have seen in some costumes. People's ability to take on a whole different persona is brought to its fullest potential at conventions, and the pageantry and showmanship has never left me disappointed.

All of that being said, Anime (and Manga) do have some truisms associated with them that we need to acknowledge up front. And the critical point I want to make here is the fact that a vastly higher number of anime characters are armed in some fashion than people in real life. So just playing the odds, if you cosplay, chances are good your character does, or should, have a weapon of some sort.

There are some other things, however, that I think should be brought forward as we got into the winter con season and move towards spring and summer break.

First of all, local laws.

I seriously can't tell you how infuriating it is to have someone go to Facebook and post twenty or thirty lines of emotional opinion or "What the con said doesn't matter because X works for the police there and he said...". Its not simply a mater of the information being in question at that point, but when a counter point is offered, the discussion turns into either A ) a full blown flame war, or B ) a passive aggressive snipping match between rival social circles. The real casualties in all of this are the con-goers themselves, a lot of whom honestly want to have fun, show off, and not get in trouble.

So, who do you trust?

Let me give you a hint, they aren't on facebook, and they aren't part of the convention.

Most major cities have a designated public information officer within the police department. Oklahoma City (the jurisdiction for Izumicon) has such an officer, and it is his express job to speak to the public and answer questions regarding the laws within the authority of his police force.

The easiest way to contact a Public Information Officer:

1. Google "Police non-emergency number" and the name of the city or town your convention is behind held in.

2. The number you find should connect you with the police department "front desk"

3. Call the number, and when you reach an operator or dispatcher (the calls are often times routed to the 911 call centers, depending on the jurisdiction) say: "Hi, my name is [first name only] and I wanted to speak with someone in the police department about local laws about a few different types of bladed weapons. Do you know who I could talk to?"

A few pointers on this as well.

You shouldn't need to give your last name, or any major identification, and in general I usually try not to when asking law enforcement these types of questions.

Don't say "I have this sword...", your descriptions are probably not going to sound to the office the way they sound to you. You want to ask questions like "What is your city policy on swords?" for example. Quite frankly, you shouldn't need to say what you have at any point in the conversation. You could legitimately being asking ahead of a purchase, or you could be calling from a location where your weapon is legal, and you just want to respect the laws of where you are going. My point is, don't get sucked into handing over an itemized list of your costume pieces to the police, they don't need it, and what you do or don't have is irrelevant to what the laws of that location do and don't say.

If anyone asks, it *is* a costume piece. Being sharp does not automatically make it anything else. That being said, you will want to ask if an edged costume item will be treated diffidently than a dull one.

While this conversation can be had on the phone, I really, really suggest you ask your questions in writing (e-mail is fine). IF (God forbid) you do wind up in a legal dispute, your attorney will want to know what you were told, and a printed E-mail will clarify things a lot faster than your recollection of a phone call.

The process isn't terribly difficult, it is a little time consuming, but it is also the best way to find out what to expect from local law enforcement, and what they will expect from you with regards to weapons.

And then, convention policy.

This really is something you don't need to start asking yourself the day before the convention. There is such a thing as too early, but realistically, you should be able to get a solid answer on what type of props the convention will allow three to six weeks ahead of time.

Now, that really raises some interesting questions.

1. Where do you get the "official" convention policy?
2. Who's interpretation of the policy will you be dealing with?

1.   Where do you get the "official" convention policy? There are a few places where you can get the official stance on weapons for a con. My first choice is the convention website. Not all of them will have the ink-on-paper policy you are looking for, but it is a good place to start looking.

If you find something that looks largely definitive, I highly recommend printing it out and keeping it handy when you head to the con.

2. Who's interpretation of the policy will you be dealing with? This one is quite simple, ask who will being handling security/safety/operations (or whatever the convention chooses to call their rule enforcement team). When you find out the name of that department, I highly recommend you point your questions at their director.

For better or for worse, the director is the one who's interpretation you will likely be answering to. I don't care if the rules say "blades up to 41" are allowed", if the ops director says "I will ask anyone with a sword over 20" to take it outside", well, guess what, that's your new rule.

Now, at this point, I highly encourage you to engage in a conversation with the person and point out that there is information out there that is different. The other information may be dated, or he may have misspoke. My point here is that when two things conflict, talk about it before you choose the one you like and hope for the best.

Once you are at the con, there are a few other things I would like to mention here.

So, why do we zip-tie weapons? Let me be honest with you, its not the the reasons you probably think.
Securing a weapon to its scabbard has (for me at least) two, and only two purposes.

First: I want to protect the weapon from other people. That zip-tie is your insurance policy that some Idiot (with a deliberate capitol I) doesn't say to himself "hey, I bet I can do something cool," and then snap your weapon out of its scabbard. As much as I respect a person's ability to protect themselves and control their personal belongings, I don't think any of us have the type of personal training needed to retain control of an openly displayed sword in a close quarters situation like a crowded con. Drop your guard for 1 minute, and you could very legitimately be hosed.

And to explain that philosophy a little more, I am a Oklahoma Concealed Weapon license holder, and I carry my sidearm in a daily basis. That weapon is hidden, and on my person at all times when it's not in it's gun box back home. If anyone were to reach for it, I am ready, and willing, to use brutal force if necessary to maintain control of that weapon. The main reason is that part of having a gun is the dire responsibility of making sure you don't ever loose control of it.

I have taken that ideal and simply transported it over to the swords and weapons at the con. By securing it to its scabbard, the idea is to buy you that added level of protection if someone else has a not-so-good idea.

Its one thing to snatch a pretty stick away from someone, its another thing entirely to suddenly have a 41" blade in hand.

Second: That zip tie tells the con that you and they are on the same page.

One of the conversations I really don't like having to have with cos-players who have weapons is when they say "I tied it down myself, I don't need to have your people zip tie it."

Actually, yes, you do.

That zip tie is also our way of telling, at a glance, twenty feet away, that your weapon had been checked, and that you and the con have talked to each other. This isn't a minor issue, Ops staff sometimes like to make sure you know important things, like places where you can go for photos, where to go with weapons related questions, places where we don't want to see weapons and so forth. And sometimes they don't have anything to say, but we still need to know that one of our people has looked at the weapon and said "yep, its snug-as-a-bug-in-a-rug."

That tie is effectively our signature saying that we have agreed that we are all agreed on things about your weapon.

Another goo case in point are non-weapons that get zip-ties.

I've seen a lot of people who say "its not real, I do I really need to zip tie this?"

Actually, yes, we really do, and for a lot of the same reasons I just said. You may know it's not real, but let me tell you, the last thing anyone needs is to be misidentified as armed in an escalating situation. If all you have is a pretty prop that can't cut butter, that zip tie is my way of looking and knowing that at a glance.

You're note that I never said, or implied that I was protecting anyone from you.

The truth of the mater is that is someone went bat-sh*t crazy and wanted to use their sword as an offensive weapon, a half dozen plastic zip ties aren't going to stop him and we all know it. Weather or not your weapon is secured by plastic ties is not going to have a major bearing on how you choose to use it, and I, for one choose to not delude myself with thoughts to the contrary.

I really, really wanted to just skip this part, but after this year, I think we need to have this conversation as well.

When dealing with other people, you need to treat your weapons as if they were real.

In translation, that means:No pointing a spear (or a gun, or a sword, or whatever...) at someone, & you don't swing anything (let alone a real sword) anywhere near people.

The one, and only one exception for this type of rule that I am aware of is a staged fight or scene, and that has its own common sense rules involved, first of which is making sure your acting area is free of by-standards.

Brandishing a weapon (even a toy) in a threatening manor can escalate a situation to the use of lethal force in seconds. If the person you are "playing with" doesn't realize you have a toy, and thinks, even for a second that you are about to hurt him, he is legally allowed to defend himself.

And just to be clear, he doesn't have to think you intend him harm, just that you might hurt him. So, if he thinks you are acting like a moron, and you just happen to be doing it with a real knife, he's probably just as justified taking a punch (or worse) at you.

Let me say this again, when carrying a prop that looks like, or looks like it could function as, a real world weapon, you need to treat it as real.

Closing thoughts
In the end, a convention is about having fun, but as costumes and props get more elaborate, and animes get more and more diverse in its character development, the con-going population is going to have an ever increasing number of cos-players who own costume weapons. As there is no central governing body to regulate this group, it is up to each and every one of us to individually learn, and apply the rules, laws, ordinances and manors that should go with weapons safety at a convention.

Cisco Cividanes is a Customer Support Technician for Dell computers. His history includes 3 years as a fully certified volunteer firefighter in the state of Virginia, one and a half years as a Correctional office in Oklahoma as well as 3 years as an (armed and unarmed) professional security officer. He holds a bachelors degree in safety from Oklahoma State University), and worked as an Fire Sprinkler engineer for 5 years. His hobbies include medieval reenactment, writing, blogging, tabletop gaming (RPG and board), walking, "tinkering",archery, knife throwing, performing arts, and fixing things. He has also moonlighted as a photographer, bounty hunter, and celebrity body guard on select occasions

No comments:

Post a Comment