Friday, February 4, 2011

Check, Please

Defenders of the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution must be watching the ongoing events in Egypt with lip-smacking satisfaction. When martial law was declared in Poland in 1981, and tanks were rolling in the streets of Warsaw, American gun owners insisted that such a thing could never succeed in the U.S. because of the abundance of guns. They also contended that no government would attempt such a thing with so many Americans exercising their right to bear arms.

Of course, they never explained exactly how a handgun was supposed to stop a tank or an armored personnel carrier full of soldiers with AK-47s. In fact, armed resistance - albeit with handguns - would probably provoke a violent and bloody reprisal, something that hasn't happened in Egypt largely because the people have chosen to engage in "peaceful" demonstrations.

But advocates of gun control in the U.S. have seen some significant setbacks in recent years that would seem to signal a retrenchment of the debate. The state of Arizona passed a law making it legal for anyone to wear a sidearm in public places like restaurants and bars. The coffee chain Starbucks even announced that, in states where such a law is in place, customers can feel free to enjoy their java with a loaded weapon strapped conspicuously to their hips.

Incidents like the recent shooting in Tucson caused another call for stricter gun control. But gun owners argue that if everyone at the scene of the incident had been armed, the shooting spree would either have never occurred or it would have ended quickly with the attacker himself being shot. And this is a relatively small price to pay, they argue, for their safety: that everyone should be prepared - and equipped - to defend his own life by taking another's.

But sensible people quite naturally see such a prospect as nightmarish, or something out of a Hollywood movie. And never mind the Freudian interpretation of male inadequacy being buttressed by a gun. But how can gun owners possibly consider eating or drinking in any establishment in which they felt it was necessary to arm themselves? If I were to discover, on entering such a restaurant or bar, that there were people inside wearing sidearms, I would unhesitatingly depart. A good steak and a draught beer are not worth the risk of getting caught in the crossfire.

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