I've always loved Mark Twain's semi-autobiographical book entitled Roughing It. It principally follows Twain's travels through the Wild West in the 1860s. Among the the many colorful stories in Roughing It are tales of old-time bandits and gunfighters.
Twain described life at a stagecoach station in the Rocky Mountains this way:
It was the very paradise of outlaws and
desperadoes. There was absolutely no semblance of law there.
Violence was the rule. Force was the only recognized authority.
The commonest misunderstandings were settled on the spot with the
revolver or the knife. Murders were done in open day, and with
sparkling frequency, and nobody thought of inquiring into them.
It was considered that the parties who did the killing had their
private reasons for it; for other people to meddle would have
been looked upon as indelicate.
Regarding the "gunfighters" of the Old West, Twain said,
The best known names in the Territory of Nevada were those belonging to
these long-tailed heroes of the revolver. They were
brave, reckless men, and traveled with their lives in their hands. To
give them their due, they did their killing principally among themselves,
and seldom molested peaceable citizens, for they considered it small
credit to add to their trophies so cheap a bauble as the death of a man
who was "not on the shoot," as they phrased it. They killed each other
on slight provocation, and hoped and expected to be killed themselves--
for they held it almost shame to die otherwise than "with their boots
on," as they expressed it.
While it all sounds quite romantic, I can't say I'm eager to live in a place where a heavily-armed citizenry practices vigilante justice and routinely settles petty arguments with bullets. But in 21st century America, that exactly where we're headed.
been asked if the Second Amendment is outmoded. It isn't. It's simply
been misinterpreted thanks to one of the many disastrous 5-4 Supreme
Court decisions of the last few years. Until 2010, the law of the land
on prohibiting ownership of some kinds of weapons was based on the case
Miller v. United States:
"In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a 'shotgun having
a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length' at this time has some
reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well
regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees
the right to keep and bear such an instrument." Describing the
constitutional authority under which Congress could call forth state
militia, the Court stated, "With obvious purpose to assure the
continuation and render possible the effectiveness of such forces the
declaration and guarantee of the Second Amendment were made. It must be
interpreted and applied with that end in view."
In the 2008 case of District of Columbia v. Heller the Supreme Court overturned Miller, and by extension the District of Columbia's ban on handgun ownership. The Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to possess a firearm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home, and, that handguns are "arms" for the purposes of the Second Amendment.
I was never in favor of a total ban on handguns. I think it makes more sense to try to convince people that keeping them in their homes is a bad idea. I'm much more disturbed by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decision in December of 2012 striking down Illinois' ban on concealed-carry of handguns in public. In a 2-1 ruling, the Court said, "The Supreme Court has decided that the amendment confers a right to
bear arms for self-defense, which is as important outside the home as
Personally, I agree with the dissenting Judge in the Court decision cited above who noted, "when firearms are carried outside the home, the safety of a broader
range of citizens is at issue. The risk of being injured or killed now
extends to strangers, law enforcement personnel, and other private
citizens who happen to be in the area." Or, to put it more simply, as then Governor of California Ronald Reagan said in the 1960s, "There’s no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons." Americans do not need handguns to protect themselves in public. I do not want to be shot by concealed handguns that fire accidentally. I do not want to be shot by stray bullets fired by armed vigilantes trying to stop crime. I do not want to be accidentally shot by people firing their guns to scare other people. I do not want to be shot by people with concealed-carry permits who go crazy and just start shooting. I have rights too, including the right to not be put at risk of being shot by people who carry loaded guns everywhere for no compelling reason.
But the gun lobby is never content. The right to carry loaded handguns in public is not enough of course. So we move to the next fight: the demand for the right to carry guns everywhere, even on private property. And with that demand, of course, comes the nonsense argument that more guns in private places makes everyone safer.
Businesses are now under heavy pressure to allow customer to carry guns on their premises, As the Chicago Tribune reported recently,
"Under the recently passed concealed carry law, businesses can now
choose whether to allow handguns on their property. If they post a sign
outside their business declaring it gun-free, patrons are not allowed to
bring them in.
But in deciding to ban or allow guns, business
owners worry they may alienate patrons who support one side or the
other. Business owners also worry their choice could saddle them with
legal liability, should something go terribly wrong."
The gun lobby of course has no intention of letting businesses decide for themselves whether to allow guns. According to the Arizona Daily Star,
"The Arizona Citizens Defense League, a nonprofit group that
supports expanding gun owners' legal rights, provides templates of
business-sized cards on its website that users can print out to
hand to business owners who prohibit firearms. Under a logo
indicating no guns means no money, the cards say "You have made a
decision to ban guns in your store. I am going to respect that
decision and take my gun and my money to a competing business.""
Companies like Starbucks Coffee have made it clear that they would prefer not to allow guns on their premises, but they no longer feel they have choice. A spokesman for the company has commented, "In communities that permit open carry, we abide by local laws. Where
these laws don't exist, openly carrying weapons in our stores is
In Arizona, Pizza Hut has reversed its no-guns policy and is allowing customers to carry firearms into
the restaurant if they are legal possessors. A spokesperson noted that the new policy doesn't apply to employees, who won't be able to
carry guns at work. "For safety reasons we have always had a 'no
weapon' policy (while working) for all of us at Pizza Hut of
Arizona" It's interesting that Pizza Hut's official comment on the change is similar to that of Starbucks: they believe that guns on the premises make everyone less, not more safe.
They're right of course: guns carried by persons without weapons and law enforcement training make everyone less safe. This is not an opinion, it's statistical fact, as demonstrated by actuarial science. Consider for example a recent decision in Kansas that permits teachers and custodians to carry concealed firearms in schools. Journalist Charles B Pierce notes,
"The EMC Insurance Co. insures 85 percent to 90 percent of all Kansas
school districts and has refused to renew coverage for schools that
permit teachers and custodians to carry concealed firearms on their
campuses under the new law, which took effect July 1. It's not a
political decision, but a financial one based on the riskier climate it
estimates would be created, the insurer said. "We've been writing school
business for almost 40 years, and one of the underwriting guidelines we
follow for schools is that any on-site armed security should be
provided by uniformed, qualified law enforcement officers," said Mick
Lovell, EMC's vice president for business development. "Our guidelines
have not recently changed.""