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From the publisher: Lawmakers, leave your guns at home

January 24, 2011

Cong. Sue Myrick is thinking about packing heat.
Yes, in the wake of a Jan. 8 mass shooting that killed six people and injured 14 others — including U.S. Cong. Gabrielle Giffords — Myrick told The Charlotte Observer she is thinking about obtaining a concealed-carry gun permit and carrying a personal firearm.
Reading that news this week, I immediately thought about the 69-year-old Republican hauling her pistol piece out of a purse in the face of a would-be assassin. Like Mattie Ross in the Western classic True Grit, I envisioned the diminutive Myrick wielding her mighty firearm in the face of her own Tom Cheney threat.
“Why, by God, girl, that's a Colt's Dragoon! You're no bigger than a corn nubbin, what're you doing with all this pistol?”
Myrick isn’t the only one talking about toting a firearm. North Carolina’s freshman Republican Cong. Renee Elmers told The Observer she not only owns a gun, but when she travels through her district, she’ll be “carrying.” The GOP’s gun-toting gals’ peer from the Democratic side of the aisle, Cong. Heath Shuler, says he also plans to pack a piece on his person. Meanwhile, Texas’ Republican Cong. Louie Gohmert proposed a bill that would allow Congress members to carry firearms around Washington, D.C., and into the Capitol building.
That’s right, during one of the most tenuous times in our nation’s political climate, Republicans and Democrats want to take their guns to town and into the halls of Congress. In the same rooms where 150 years ago South Carolina Democrat Preston Brooks beat a Congressional peer with a wooden cane, today’s lawmakers want to carry pistols. Is this really a good idea?
In a House full of handguns, what happens the first time there is conflict between Democrats and Republicans on the legislative plains? What’s to stop National Rifle Association’s endorsed marshal Patrick McHenry from leading a GOP charge into Lucky Ned Pepper’s Democrat gang?
“Fill your hands you son of a ...”
Of course images of Congress members engaging in wild West shootouts in the middle of the U.S. House of Representatives are completely absurd. But so, too, are knee-jerk reactions by lawmakers and many other Americans in the wake of the Tucson, Ariz., killing spree.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, background checks for handgun sales spiked 5 percent nationwide on the Monday following the Tucson shooting. That amounts to the potential for 7,906 handguns sold, and many of those guns were likely Glocks similar to the one a twisted shooter used in Arizona. Bloomberg News reports FBI data that, on Jan. 10, background checks for handgun sales jumped 60 percent in Arizona compared to the same day last year. Those background checks climbed 65 percent to 395 in Ohio; 16 percent to 672 in California; and 33 percent to 206 in New York, according to the FBI’s data reported by Bloomberg.
Further, sales for high capacity ammunition magazines, like the one the Arizona shooter used, also spiked. One Arizona gunsmith told NPR that sales of the clips in his stores spiked 1,000 percent.
Background checks and magazine sales don’t necessarily translate to gun sales, of course, but they do reflect a desire by Americans to go out and buy a gun in the wake of a shooting spree.
Now, certainly there is nothing wrong with responsible individuals owning firearms. The right is protected by the U.S. Constitution. Every American is entitled to own a gun and, after completing adequate training and obtaining a concealed-carry gun permit, they have every right to carry those guns on their person.
That said, you’ll have a hard time convincing me that every person who sought to buy a hand gun immediately after the Jan. 8 shooting will be responsible enough to seek training and obtain legal permits to carry guns. You’ll have an even harder time convincing me that all hopeful gun buyers in California and New York can be classified as “responsible.” The same goes for lawmakers who think it is a good idea for them to bring firearms into the U.S. Capitol building.
Sure, Shuler, Myrick, and U.S. Sens. Kay Hagan and Richard Burr are all long-time gun advocates. I have little doubt that they are all experienced shooters and responsible gun-owners. Having a gun on their person, however, won't offer them any better protection against a deranged person who steps out of a crowd and starts firing.
More importantly, when these lawmakers make reckless promises of carrying a gun more often, they are setting an example that it is OK for Americans to carry a gun to workplaces, shopping malls, ball parks and political rallies. And an increased presence of guns carried among our citizenry only increases the chances that accidental shootings will occur. In fact, just this week, two California high school students were injured when a gun inside a backpack accidentally discharged.
According to The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, on average,almost 100,000 people are killed by guns in America annually. Of those, 613 die in accidental shootings, and another 18,610 are injured in accidents. Each day, on average, 268 people in American are shot, and 47 of those are children and teens.
Putting more guns on the street — many of which will find their way into the hands of criminals, children and the mentally disturbed — won't help reduce any of those frightening statistics.
Lawmakers and other leaders can help curb these trends, and it doesn't necessarily require unsavory gun control laws. It does, however, require that they stop their holster-rattling promises to carry guns, and leave the practice to responsible, well-trained professionals. Doing so, would show that they are truly men and women with "grit."

Michael Willard is the publisher of and a columnist for The Observer News Enterprise. His column appears int he weekend edition.

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