The current guns-in-Starbucks debate signifies how greatly the ground has shifted on the whole issue of gun control.
Having been raised in the Puget Sound area and then living in the Boston-New York-D.C. corridor, where gun control was a given, I was shocked, during the 1964 Democratic presidential campaign, to fly into a rally in Tucson, Arizona, where a good percentage of the attendees were openly carrying sidearms in holsters. The Secret Service appeared to pay them little mind. This, mind you, was only a few months after President Kennedy had been shot to death in Dallas.
The 1968 assassinations of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Sen. Robert Kennedy brought fresh national pressure for gun control and, it seemed, a national consensus that guns were dangerous and should be tightly regulated.
Gradually, opinion began shifting. The emphasis became on "handgun" control and not on hunting rifles and other weapons. Democrats, strongly identified with control measures, began pulling away from them on a national basis, finding themselves losing ground in hunting states. The issue has been conveniently soft-pedaled by Democratic presidential candidates since 1992.
The scale of the shift became apparent to me last week in a college, ranching, farming, and commercial town in central Arizona where I spend part of my time. A few months earlier, a local landowner had fired off rounds from an AK-47 assault rifle while hikers were moving across nearby ground (not owned by the rancher). The hikers turned him in. It seemed apparent to them he was trying to frighten and even harm them.
The AK-47 owner said he had not seen the hikers and was unaware of them. He had not heard their shouts to him because his ears were covered. He owned the weapon, he said, to use against coyotes and other predators threatening his livestock. (An AK-47, it seemed to me, was an improbable weapon for such use. Why not a more accurate hunting rifle?)
Bottom line: A jury found the rancher not guilty on all of several counts. Local opinion generally sided against the hikers. Majority opinion in the area generally sides with the notion that anyone, anytime should be able to openly or covertly carry a firearm — into bars, coffee houses, on the street, you name it.
I've always been puzzled by the compulsion many have to carry firearms. I got my own fill of them after several years of active and reserve Army duty. I find that most former servicemen who have seen weapons fired in anger want little to do with them as civilians. Of course, there are always those who, before their service, were gun lovers and, afterward, have picked up where they left off. But that is another matter.
What has happened to us? How many shooting incidents must we undergo? How many tragic home accidents? Hey, dangerous weapons must be legally controlled. It seems absurd we are even having the argument.
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